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Trump's Covid-19 Recklessness is Costing the US Dearly

Jeffrey D. Sachs | October 6, 2020 |

Editor's Note: Jeffrey Sachs is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) President Donald Trump's recklessness about protecting himself and the White House against the novel coronavirus not only led to his own infection, but likely to the infections of many other political leaders and White House staff in recent days.

His recklessness knows no bounds. Even on Monday, with all of the dangers he has caused to himself, his wife, his staff and his fellow politicians, and with all of the suffering and deaths across the nation, he tweets, "Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life."

This is yet another Trump lie in a nonstop series of Trump lies since the start of the outbreak, including those that Bob Woodward got on tape in early February.

Trump is not only a liar but a narcissist, forever unable to think beyond himself. Trump claims that Americans shouldn't worry about Covid-19 because of "some really great drugs & knowledge," disregarding the rather pedestrian fact that Americans do not have access to the same drug regimen that Trump received, nor to the helicopter that ferried Trump to the hospital, nor to the dedicated hospital wing that Trump has had for his private use, nor to an around-the-clock personal medical staff.

For all of Trump's absurd boasts, he remains pathetically oblivious to the 210,000 Americans who have died so far, at a death rate of 64 per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world. He makes the Emperor Nero look good.

Here are four of Trump's major and oft-repeated lies about Covid-19:

First, despite Trump's apparent assumption that the nation must choose between the economy and public health, that has never been the case. Trump and his minions can't seem to understand the most basic point: the way to control the pandemic is through systematic public health measures, called Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), not an economic shutdown.

NPIs are preventative measures such as wearing face masks, bans on large events, physical distancing, contact tracing, quarantining, monitoring of symptoms at workplaces and transit areas, limits on travel and more. An economic shutdown is an emergency stopgap to put the NPIs into operation when the pandemic is raging and more concrete protective measures are not yet in place.

The tragic fact is that Trump worked against the efforts of many other political and health leaders who vocalized the need for NPIs. He even politicized the use of face masks and failed to launch effective nationwide contact tracing and quarantining efforts.

The work to implement NPIs was left to overwhelmed state and local governments, which utterly lacked everything they needed for quick action: sufficient amounts of protective equipment, mass testing resources, contact-tracing teams, quarantine facilities and prior experience.

Far from there being a choice between saving the economy and fighting the virus, Trump is killing the national economy precisely because of his administration's failure to bring the virus under control through NPIs. Job recovery is slowing; the employment-population ratio is the lowest on record since record-keeping began in 1948; personal incomes are now declining with the end of federal benefits; and in many parts of the country, the virus is resurging.

Second, the US response to the virus has proven to be one of the worst in the world. But, all the while, Trump has repeatedly praised the US's handling of the disease outbreak. Of course, we know that Trump will say anything to talk himself up.

Trump simply refuses to compare the US with countries with successful outcomes, notably those in the Asia-Pacific region. More importantly, the Trump administration has not shown the slightest interest to learn from the successful countries. The only aim of team Trump seems to have been avoiding reputational damage.

I pointed out months ago the need to learn from the Asia-Pacific examples. Those successes remain in place. As of Tuesday, the US is averaging about 134 new cases per day per million population. By comparison, Australia has averaged less than one new case per day per million; South Korea, less than two new case per day; and Japan, about four new cases per day.

Third, while Trump endlessly touts his closure of US borders to China at the end of January as a great accomplishment, the tragic joke is that the US border was not closed and the US was not protected from the arrival of infected passengers from abroad.

For two months after Trump's supposed travel ban, there were almost 40,000 arrivals from China, and many with little scrutiny. Moreover, until March 11, Trump left travel open with Europe, and some research has indicated that New York's outbreak came mainly from Europe. To this day, the security of US airports is nothing less than shambolic. Even basic health screening at some airports has been stopped. In short, Trump has left our borders exposed.

Fourth, while Trump has relentlessly claimed that blame for the pandemic lies with China, the fact is that Trump has had ample time, more than nine months since the outbreak was first reported, to put effective US pandemic response policies in place, but he has failed to do so. Trump's finger-pointing at China is a pure smokescreen, or at the least his typical attempt to blame others for his own startling incompetence.

Citizens in many of the Asia-Pacific countries, which are much closer to China than the US, already knew what to do by late January to protect themselves from the virus. Many took swift precautionary measures, such as widespread use of face mask, avoiding contact with tourists and objects in public, and improving hygiene practices.

Shamefully, the White House failed to encourage such measures in the US and Trump has continued a despicable war against face masks until now, including his ostentatious removal of his face mask upon arriving back at the White House on Monday.

It wasn't so hard, after all, to discern the emergency: China was already in a countrywide lockdown.

We know from Woodward's tapes of his interview with the President that Trump also knew by then how deadly the virus was. Yet he failed again and again to take the necessary measures to protect the nation he leads. Now the questions about his transparency regarding his own illness are raising yet more eyebrows.

Through all of this, many in the Republican Party have played along, parroting Trump's lines, minimizing the pandemic, and utterly neglecting to protect American lives and livelihoods. It has been a shocking abnegation of responsibility, beyond anything that the US has previously experienced by a major political party.



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