What exactly are his critics alleging that he and his administration are doing wrong?
Let’s attempt to spell it out, starting with the most consistent criticism we see.
Not initially taking the virus seriously, and even downplaying it
As NBC’s Geoff Bennet reminded us, it was one month ago on Friday that Trump said this: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
He also regularly compared it to the flu, even as it was wracking a nursing home in Washington state and spreading across the nation. Some of his advisers still do. This chart by The Post’s Philip Bump shows Trump’s repeated comments downplaying the virus even as recorded cases spiked.
Trump had been advised that this was coming and could be dangerous. The Washington Post reports that intelligence agencies were watching coronavirus spread in China and warning his administration of the dangers of the virus as early as January. Trump closed the border to Chinese travelers, but warnings about how to prepare America for the onslaught of the virus went largely unheeded. Which brings us to our next point.
Not being prepared for mass testing before the virus spread
Trump did eventually take the virus more seriously, implementing 15-day social distancing guidelines starting on March 15. But another problem remained: Public health officials did not know how many people had the virus. The federal government was slow to ramp up testing. And when it did, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally made a faulty test, putting the United States even more behind the curve.
As Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiology expert at Harvard University, wrote Monday in The Post: “The United States currently has a sliver of the capacity we need, which is a tiny fraction of that available in other countries. South Korea has performed over 320,000 tests — almost one for every 150 people. That is 30 times the testing per capita that we have done in the United States.”
“The result is that we have no idea how many people are infected with the coronavirus or how fast the virus is spreading,” he wrote.
Anthony S. Fauci, a respected doctor on Trump’s coronavirus task force, told Congress it was a “failing” that the federal government then did not get the private sector more involved to get testing up.
Giving mixed, inaccurate messaging
“Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was Trump on March 6, six days before Fauci acknowledged to Congress that the government was behind on testing.
Trump also regularly says in his briefings and tweets that he has “a feeling” about an anti-malaria drug that could treat the coronavirus, even though Fauci and other health experts say it hasn’t been proven. “What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said.
In Arizona, a man died after taking fish-tank cleaner that included an active ingredient that Trump was touting as a possible antidote to coronavirus. His wife, who was in the ICU after ingesting it, told NBC News they heard the ingredient being talked about on TV.
Trump’s inconsistent and inaccurate messaging breaks down the most important tool he has right now to slow the virus, wrote The Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson and William Wan: “Public trust.”
Not doing enough to counteract the hospital equipment shortages
Taking the virus seriously and ramping up testing are the first two pieces to the preparation puzzle, health experts say. The third is planning for the worst.
To do that, the Trump administration needed to be counting its federal stockpile of ventilators and masks and other personal protective equipment, considering whether that was enough and what to do if it needs more.
“What social distancing does is buy us time to replenish supplies like masks and ventilators, deal with the immediate crisis in hospitals and come up with additional strategies,” Tom Inglesby, an infectious-disease expert at Johns Hopkins, told my colleagues.
The administration didn’t do that soon enough.
The shortages start with the very basic. A Johns Hopkins report from February estimated that a moderate pandemic would hospitalize 1 million people. The United States has an estimated 924,100 hospital beds. Last week, some health officials criticized Congress and Trump for not passing an $8.3 billion bill weeks sooner to help them prepare for the bed shortages, wasting precious time to build up their capacity of ICU beds in particular.
Now, as health-care workers use bandannas and sports goggles to protect themselves, and the United States has the most confirmed cases of anywhere in the world, Trump questions whether governors actually need what they say their state’s health-care workers need.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” he told Fox News Sean Hannity on Thursday night. “You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?” The New York Times reports that the White House suddenly called off a plan to purchase 80,000 ventilators because of worry about their cost.
The New York Times calculates that if the administration had seriously started working with the private sector in February to address these shortages, it could be giving states like New York ventilators by mid-to-late April. Now, Ford and General Electric, which have started voluntarily making ventilators, said they won’t be ready until early June.
And Trump, under pressure from some business leaders who have his ear, has not used the Defense Production Act to force U.S. manufacturers to start making ventilators and personal protective equipment. A number of governors say he should, because the federal government could help coordinate purchasing power and organize how to get ventilators to where they need to be.
“It’s like the Wild West” trying to compete with states for supplies, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) told CNN.
Instead of putting the full weight of federal law behind him, Trump, in a tweet Friday, commanded in all-caps General Motors and Ford to make ventilators and announced that the government has purchased some.
Using racially inflammatory language to describe the virus and regularly attacking his political opponents
Trump also has used the daily White House briefings to attack his political opponents, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to former vice president Joe Biden, to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted for Trump’s removal from office, to Democratic governors at the epicenter of the crisis, like New York’s Andrew M. Cuomo (D). On Thursday, Trump appeared to threaten a governor who pressed him for more leadership in a private call earlier that day: “He’s usually a big wise guy — not so much anymore. We saw to it he wouldn’t be anymore,” Trump told reporters.
And the Associated Press reports that governors feel like they need to say nice things about the federal government’s response — even if they don’t feel that way — to have a chance of persuading Trump to help them.
Trying to pull back social distancing before public health experts say it has a chance to work
Trump has floated an idea to let people in not-as-hard-hit areas go back to work by Easter. But public health experts warn it would be nothing short of “disastrous” to let people resume their normal routines by then. Even some prominent Republican governors say it’s not a good idea.