Home Opinion OPINION: Democrats Discuss — Trump’s delayed response to COVID-19 comes too little, too late

OPINION: Democrats Discuss — Trump’s delayed response to COVID-19 comes too little, too late

18 min read

Cody Phillips is a senior studying biology with a minor in chemistry. He is a member of the Ohio University College Democrats. The following article reflects the opinion and views of the author and does not present the thoughts of the Ohio University College Democrats.

This is a submitted column, and please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

The first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was declared on Jan. 20, and the administration still has not adequately responded to the pandemic eight months later. With the upcoming election and deaths in the U.S. reaching nearly 200,000 people, it is important to examine President Trump’s response to the virus and how he managed to mismanage the outbreak.

The start of Trump’s blunder of the COVID-19 pandemic began years before the virus was even discovered when his actions left the U.S. uninformed and vulnerable to an outbreak.

Trump has been steadfast with his desire to cut funding to many essential public health agencies. Democrats, however, have equally met his stubbornness with their own to continue to fund these important public health organizations. Although he could not defund organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he did slash the size of the staff at the branch that operated inside China to help prevent the global spread of many diseases. 

Not only did this leave the U.S. and China ill-prepared for the virus, but it also decreased the capabilities of China to respond. The CDC staffers worked in Beijing, which would have put them much closer to the initial outbreak, and it would have cleared up many issues surrounding China’s questionable release of information. 

Alongside cuts to the CDC in China, Trump was critical in the dismantling of The Global Health Security and Biodefense unit — a task force created under President Obama that was responsible for pandemic preparedness. 

Although some of those people were merged into other offices at the National Security Council, the overall removal of the unit removed a dedicated team of epidemiologists and health experts. His decisions surrounding public health organizations further weakened the country’s capability to respond adequately and efficiently.

Trump’s actions before the virus left the U.S. vulnerable and unprepared, but his actions once the virus arrived were also inadequate. 

In January and February, Trump received multiple warnings in his daily briefings. These briefings explicitly detailed the threat that COVID-19 posed to national security. However, Trump refused to acknowledge the danger posed. His only solution was to ban entry to the U.S. of many, but not all, people traveling from China. Some experts warned this effort would have little effect on the spread of the already global virus. 

During the time after the China travel ban, he did little to nothing to help further prevent the spread of the virus, wasting the small amount of time that the ban granted the U.S. 

Trump requested $2.5 billion in funding from Congress in February for increased investment in a vaccine and personal protective equipment (PPE) production, but he waited until the U.S. was facing major issues with shortages.

After requesting the funding, he also created a task force dedicated to COVID-19. Instead of turning to a public health expert, as states such as New Jersey and Ohio did, he instead decided to appoint Vice President Pence to lead. 

Pence, who is neither a doctor nor a public health expert, has an unsatisfactory record with handling other virus outbreaks. When Pence was the governor of Indiana, he oversaw an AIDS outbreak associated with IV drug use. Rather than listen to experts, Pence hesitated and distrusted expert opinions. This hesitation directly resulted in an increased spread of the disease.

Pence’s lack of expertise and his failed AIDS response underscored his lack of qualifications to lead Trump’s taskforce. His history of ignoring public health officials paints a foreboding future of his continued distrust of experts. Pence’s appointment to lead the COVID-19 task force hinders the ability of actual science and reasonable public health policy to help.

In early March, Trump declared a national emergency, which freed up important funding for health organizations and other responses to COVID-19. He also announced the CDC guidelines that encouraged social distancing. These were beneficial, necessary actions, but he also followed up these actions with general inaction, and most importantly, rhetoric that undermined the severity of the virus. 

COVID-19 is not the flu, and drawing these comparisons sowed the seed of doubt in his base. The virus also became politicized. This produced an unnecessary divide and created a camp that was resistant to simple policies to reduce spread and deaths. 

Republicans and the conservative base acted loudly and aggressively to oppose the few policies that were implemented at the encouragement of the president. His words emboldened his supporters to threaten public health officials, like former Director of the Ohio Department of Health Amy Acton, because of their role in state responses to COVID-19. His actions and rhetoric damaged states’ ability to respond to COVID-19 by distancing health experts from policy, allowing for a greater spread of the virus and more deaths.

The CARES Act, which passed despite resistance in the House of Representatives, helped supplement incomes and protect businesses. After extreme shortages on supplies like hospital ventilators and weeks of pressure, Trump finally listened to experts and implemented the Defense Production Act. This required many companies to produce ventilators and other PPE.

For many, however, this was too little, too late. Throughout the early parts of the outbreak, the president continued to ignore advice from experts and delayed response times, which resulted in American casualties.

As global cases climbed into the millions, Trump also announced plans to stop funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), which is a division of the United Nations that helped organize a global response to the pandemic. The WHO has been important for the management of other disease outbreaks in history, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a different strain of coronavirus. Their efforts were essential in coordinating the response and providing resources to help control the spread. 

Trump’s decision to halt funding to the WHO impairs the international organization’s capabilities to respond. His frustration with the WHO because it said his China travel bans were “ineffective in most situations” does not warrant interfering with the organized global response. These were all just attempts to cover himself from the scrutiny he was receiving for ignoring early warnings and for mismanaging the small amount of time his travel ban gave them.

By the end of April, the U.S. reached 50,000 deaths and 1 million confirmed cases. It also saw the expiration of the few efforts Trump had made to nationally curb the spread, with the expiration of his social distancing policy. This social distancing policy only lasted roughly a month and did little to decrease the casualties as it lacked enforcement, or even support from the president himself. 

The expiration of the federal social distancing policy also passed the burden of managing the pandemic to states. This left the U.S. without a centralized plan, communication or standards to abide by. It also allowed for strong disparities between state policies, leaving certain states more vulnerable to high death and infection rates, like Georgia. Trump also released reopening guidelines for the states to follow, pushing for the end of stay-at-home policies, while deaths were still climbing. 

Left with only vague guidelines from the White House, it seems that Trump had already given up on controlling the pandemic, which as president, falls on his shoulders. He continues to wipe his hands of the completely unhandled pandemic by pushing for states to open far before they had met even the most basic requirements to do so. Death rates continued to increase as Trump spouted support for hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that was found to be not effective in treating COVID-19, injecting disinfectant into the body, and going as far as to suggest bringing very powerful light into the body as a treatment.

Throughout his attempts at handling the pandemic, Trump refused to implement comprehensive testing or to even provide the necessary funding and support for testing. 

Other countries, such as South Korea, were effective in slowing the spread to a near halt through the use of comprehensive testing and contact tracing, both things that were never implemented in the U.S. on a comparable scale. Without comprehensive testing, public health officials cannot know who is infected, and it allows for spread through unaware, asymptomatic carriers. 

Along with a lack of testing, the lack of rigorous contact tracing hinders the ability of public health workers to follow and quarantine anyone who might have been exposed and may be infected. Both testing and tracing minimize the impact of asymptomatic carriers, yet they were never a focus in Trump’s response.

Trump’s inability to listen to experts in public health and science, as well as his inability to rapidly respond to the threat of COVID-19, resulted in the infections of 6 million people, and the deaths of nearly 200,000 Americans. Countries that responded rapidly to large initial outbreaks have experienced significantly fewer cases and deaths. 

Germany has approximately 250,000 cases with only 9,000 deaths. South Korea has approximately 20,000 cases and around 300 deaths. Even Italy, once the world leader in deaths, has only experienced a little under 300,000 cases and around 35,000 deaths. These countries listened to public health experts and scientists and did not hesitate to combat their outbreaks.

The virus could have been managed, but Trump did too little, too late. As the election approaches, it is important to consider his insubstantial response to a global pandemic.

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