In the early morning of Friday October 2 President Donald Trump, after claiming in a debate the week prior that he “wears a mask when he needs to”, became one of ~8 million documented coronavirus victims in the United States. Per Trump’s usual means of communication, the president informed the public via Twitter that he had indeed tested positive for COVID-19.
President Trump’s heightened risk factors: being male, elderly (74), and overweight (Trump eschews tobacco and alcohol, but has a fondness for BigMacs) – put the odds of him dying or becoming critically ill at ~3% and ~12.5%, respectively (though these percentages are probably too high given the level of medical care available to the President of the United States vs the general population).
The day of his diagnosis, President Trump was transported to Walter Reed Medical Center. He was given supplemental oxygen, began a 5-day course of the antiviral drug remdesivir, pumped full of dexamethasone, a steroid typically administered in severe COVID cases, and supplied with an experimental antibody drug, compounded by a company called Regeneron.
Prior to being discharged, Trump – still contagious - left his hospital room to express his gratitude to supporters surrounding the facility. In doing so, he needlessly exposed secret service agents who were assigned to his limousine; Trump waived to his fans from the back seat. Then Trump (presumably) used taxpayer money to buy pizza pies for his well-wishers outside Walter Reed. Harmless enough, if not for the fact that enabling strangers to congregate while reaching for slices of pizza amid a viral pandemic communicated via close personal contact is irresponsible.
On October 5, President Trump was released from Walter Reed. He tweeted, “I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Though less than a week removed from contracting the coronavirus, we cannot disprove the last sentence of that tweet. We can – and do – disapprove of Mr. Trump’s communication regarding the coronavirus pandemic, except for at the onset of it. We expand on this later in this post.
Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies
There is no shortage of outright lies that Donald Trump has propagated with regards to COVID-19. In late February, Mr. Trump said “one day, it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” On March 6, just as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic was becoming apparent, President Trump said that if “somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.”
At the time, there was a national shortage of testing kits. Only the most acute patients were tested, and the results often took over a week. Later that month Trump said the FDA had approved hydrocholorquine to treat the coronavirus. This was untrue then and remains the case today. In March, no drug was approved specifically to treat COVID.
On June 17 Trump said the coronavirus is “fading away.”
On July 2 Trump said the coronavirus pandemic is “getting under control.”
While these are subjective statements, they are also suspect statements. In early July, the U.S. was recording ~50,000 COVID cases per day. To be fair, one could argue that what Trump lied about in March, was now true: if somebody wants to be tested, they can be. More testing equates to more confirmed cases. Regardless, there was scant evidence the pandemic was being arrested (this Friday, the U.S. recorded 57,000 cases of COVID). On Independence Day, Trump argued that “99% of COVID cases are totally harmless.” This is categorically untrue. ~40% COVID cases are asymptomatic, others are mildly symptomatic and typically resolve without any long-term complications, ~10% require hospitalization and ~.6% result in death. (data are heavily reliant on a patient’s age, gender, and comorbidities).
On October 6, Trump tweeted, "Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!."
So much for the virus “disappearing” or “fading away.”
The coronavirus is ~6x deadlier than the flu. In a typical year ~200,000 Americans are hospitalized and about 25,000 people die from the flu, resulting in a mortality rate of ~.1%. The mortality rate for COVID is ~.6%. The proportion of patients requiring hospitalization for the coronavirus (~10%) is exponentially higher than that of influenza. Furthermore, while long term debilities from the flu are exceptionally rare, there is a growing subset of coronavirus victims who are still suffering months after becoming infected.
We Get It
In February, Donald Trump told respected journalist Bob Woodward on a recorded line that he knew the coronavirus was deadly – more so than the flu - even though he downplayed its severity to the public. Said Trump last month when reports of a call between himself and Woodward surfaced: “I don't want people to be frightened, I don't want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”
Not surprisingly, Trump is being vilified for having not been forthright with the public. In our view – and we stress the timing of when that phone call took place - we do not blame him.
Imagine what would have happened if Donald Trump addressed the nation and said something analogous to: “Let me be clear, the coronavirus has permeated America’s borders. There is much to be discovered; what we do know is that COVID is highly infectious, multiple times more deadly than the flu, and there is no known cure. We expect millions of cases. Our healthcare system has little spare capacity and risks being overwhelmed. If you require hospitalization, your relatives will not be able to comfort you in person. We expect a particularly large number of cases in nursing homes and hospice centers. To mitigate the spread of the virus, as of next week, all elder care facilities will be closed for visitation until further notice. We encourage everybody to be tested, but we do not have enough tests for everybody to be tested. We encourage everybody to sanitize their hands and wipe down all surfaces with vigor, but we do not have an ample supply of wipes, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. The only known ways to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus is to socially distance and wear a mask, preferably an N95 one, when socially distancing is not feasible. Unfortunately, our nations’ stockpile of N95 masks and other protective gear is depleted. We are also desperately short of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Our doctors and nurses are being forced to reuse PPE and N95 masks. Do not bother going to your local drug store or searching on Amazon for any type of mask. There are none. From our understanding, ventilators will be vital helping critical patients stay alive until the virus clears their systems. However, we do not have enough ventilators for everybody. We might need to ration care. Please be prudent but remain calm. Together we will get through this.”
The most efficient way to create panic – in part because of an impending shortage - is to publicly announce you are expecting one. In early February, if Donald Trump were completely forthright with the public – which his many critics say he should have been – an extremely convincing argument could be made that the result would have been major panic and social unrest. Physical altercations might have taken place over scarce resources. There were some instances of hoarding. But despite massive strain on supply chains, most citizens were able to procure the necessities they were accustomed to.
A 180 Not A 360
It is fiendishly difficult to defend a pathological liar. In this case, we do not blame Donald Trump for initially lying to the public about the coronavirus back in early February. We can accept that he was trying to buy time and keep the masses calm while manufacturers ramped up production of highly coveted N95 masks, regular masks, PPE, and ventilators.
Our main beef is that when the requisite medical gear was no longer in short supply, after Doctor Anthony Fauci and the rest of the scientific community went on record about the dangers of the coronavirus and how it is communicated, and after millions of Americans became infected with, and thousands died from, COVID, instead of quickly doing a 180 and imploring all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, to be vigilant and take the virus seriously, he continued to downplay the gravity of the disease and make politically divisive statements surrounding it. This is reprehensible.
Donald Trump has consistently argued that we cannot shutter our economy because of the coronavirus. On this point, we agree. The economy cannot and should not be in a perpetual state of paralysis. Businesses should be able to operate so long as reasonable precautions are taken. Schools should open and hold classes in person with common sense, enhanced safety protocols, in place. Sporting events should take place so long as athletes and support staff are routinely tested.
Trump has also called for Americans to go about their daily business as per norm. On this point, we partially agree. Americans should go about their daily routine, but they should also take a few reasonable steps to be mindful about their health, and the health of their fellow citizens. However, Trump’s inconsistent behavior and lack of regard for health protocols tacitly encourages people not to take proper precautions while going about their business. This ironically stifles the economy from operating the way Donald Trump so desperately wants, and probably needs, if he wants to be reelected.