Trump largely silent as health officials sound COVID-19 alarm
Trump administration health officials are issuing increasingly dire warnings about the coronavirus and its rapid spread across the country, drawing a sharp contrast to the president’s reluctance to acknowledge the severity of the crisis head-on.
President Trump has been largely silent when it comes to warning the public about the need for precautions or announcing major new steps aimed at curbing the spread of the virus before a vaccine is widely available.
Instead, many of his public statements have focused on election conspiracy theories and his refusal to accept the results, underscored by a 46-minute video he posted to Facebook on Wednesday.
Trump has made little use of his White House megaphone to warn the public, especially his supporters, about the increasing dangers posed by the coronavirus, leaving that task mainly to various agency officials.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield warned on Wednesday that December, January and February are “going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
The U.S. is already being hit with 150,000 new cases a day, as well as a record 100,000-plus coronavirus patients in hospitals and more than 2,500 deaths from the virus on Wednesday alone. Those numbers are expected to worsen as more people test positive after a surge of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings.
The White House coronavirus task force sent a report, dated Sunday, to states sounding the alarm on several fronts, including that “a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall” as hospitals are overwhelmed.
It also said state responses “remain inadequate” in “many areas” and called for measures like limiting or closing indoor dining, which many states have not done.
The report further warned that people over 65 and those with significant health conditions should avoid any indoor spaces where someone is not wearing a mask, and that they should get groceries and medications delivered instead of venturing out.
People under 40 who gathered for Thanksgiving should isolate from anyone at high risk and get tested immediately, the task force report added.
Even though some of those warnings were aimed at the public, the White House did not release the report and instead sent it privately to states. The document came to light only after it was leaked to the press.
Trump has not echoed those kinds of health warnings in his public remarks; when he has discussed state restrictions, it is often to urge them to be less restrictive, not more.
Some health experts said that given Trump’s history of making skeptical and at times misleading remarks about the coronavirus, his relative silence on the topic might be better than having him undercut the messaging from public health agencies. The president has previously mocked the idea of wearing masks, and held a series of packed rallies before the election.
“Based on past performance,” Trump would not be helpful, said Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’d rather he be quiet than step on the message of the CDC, which appears to be waking back up and providing useful guidance.”
Asked where the president’s “public leadership” on the virus surge has been, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Wednesday: “He gave a press conference about two weeks ago, I believe, on the vaccine, which he has done at warp speed because he’s torn down bureaucratic barriers.”
“He’s been hard at work,” she added. “He’s done I don’t know how many coronavirus task force briefings from this podium. But the work he’s done speaks for itself.”
When Trump has spoken about coronavirus recently, it has been to tout progress on the vaccine, which has indeed progressed at record speed and shown very promising safety and efficacy results. But the vaccine will not be widely available for several months, highlighting the need for other measures in the short term to get through the brutal winter months.
McEnany also brushed off coronavirus concerns about the White House’s plans to hold in-person holiday parties amid the pandemic, particularly after an event earlier this year on the White House grounds was deemed a “super-spreader event” by Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the administration’s coronavirus task force.
“If you can loot businesses, burn down buildings, engage in protest, you can also go to a Christmas party, you can celebrate the holiday of Christmas, and you can do it responsibly. Which is why the East Wing has noted that they’ll have smaller guest lists, masks are going to be available, social distancing is going to be encouraged, hand sanitizing stations, among other measures,” McEnany said.
Doug Heye, a GOP strategist, said that “in a normal world with a normal president,” it would of course be beneficial to have the president messaging front and center. But with Trump, “the president is not only absent, but if he were engaged, we don’t know based on everything that we saw that he’d be a force of good.”
Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, told Fox News in an interview that aired Tuesday that better handling of the virus could have helped Trump win reelection.
“People were scared,” Parscale said. “I think if he would have been publicly empathetic, he would have won by a landslide then. He could have leaned into it instead of run away from it.”