On Saturday, The Washington Post published a deep dive into how outgoing President Donald Trump's denial and unwillingness to engage with public health challenges led to the new, and worst spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
In November, reported Yasmeen Abutaleb, Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, and Philip Rucker, "Trump went days without mentioning the pandemic other than to celebrate progress on vaccines. The president by then had abdicated his responsibility to manage the public health crisis and instead used his megaphone almost exclusively to spread misinformation in a failed attempt to overturn the results of the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden."
"Now, a month later, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States is reaching records daily. The nation's death count is rising steadily as well, this past week surpassing 300,000 — a total that had seemed unfathomable earlier this year," said the report. "The dark winter is here, hospitalizations risk breaching capacities, and health professionals predict it will get worse before it gets better."
Trump's consistent efforts to downplay COVID danger have been named the "lie of the year" by PolitiFact. And even some former Trump administration officials, according to the report, admit that the president's denial made everything more difficult.
"We were always going to have spread in the fall and the winter, but it didn't have to be nearly this bad," said former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. "We could have done better galvanizing collective action, getting more adherence to masks. The idea that we had this national debate on the question of whether masks infringed on your liberty was deeply unfortunate. It put us in a bad position."
Nor was Trump alone — he relied for weeks on advisers outside the medical mainstream, including Dr. Scott Atlas. Many in the White House went without masks, sending mixed messages about the crucial public safety measure. And according to the report, some of his closest aides, like White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, exacerbated the problem by shrouding the White House's strategy and COVID status in secrecy.
"Meadows threatened to fire White House Medical Unit doctors, who fall below the chief of staff in the chain of command, if they helped release information about new infections, according to one official," said the report. "Meadows argued internally, according to this official, that the White House was 'under no obligation to tell the press or the public that Joe Schmo who works in the White House has tested positive.'"
The consequence was that huge segments of the population got the message not to take the virus seriously — with grim results.
"There are tens of millions of people who fundamentally don't have the same perception of reality when it comes to the virus," said former Centers for Disease Control official Tom Frieden. "There are always going to be people who are suspicious and paranoid and believe in UFOs or whatever, but because we're not on the same page on covid, it's very hard to get people to act together."
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