I'm on the front line — I can't stay silent while Trump makes empty promises

 

The best approach to recovering our economic health and the trust in the market is not loans; it is not with grants; it is not a $10 trillion rescue package. It is putting Dr. Tony Fauci back on the podium, with a brief but enthusiastic introduction from Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE, saying only "Whatever he says!" 

I have long resisted speaking out about how this president has ruinously governed, but now it is truly a matter of life and death — mine and those of my colleagues, my friends, my family, and the rest of the country. 

As one of those on the front line, I can no longer remain silent as the administration offers empty thanks to us and empty promises for more personal protective equipment and ventilators and testing, on the one hand, and outrageous (and hopefully disingenuous) promises to have our churches packed by Easter on the other. 

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Are they going to offer "thoughts and prayers" to the thousands, or even millions, that will suffer and die because the credibility of epidemiology is undermined and adherence to social distancing wanes as a result? 

It took a journalist suggesting to Trump that it was selfish of him not to self-quarantine after exposure to people with the confirmed infection before he agreed to be tested. But it was more than a week later before the press conferences, the best first-hand opportunity to demonstrate proper presidential and socially responsible behavior live on national television, showed even the remotest attempt at social distancing.

And "attempt" is all one could call it. While the audience of journalists was thinned last week, as of today, people at the podium were still tripping over each other, all were touching the podium without any regard to the potential for transmission that way, and Trump acted bothered rather than concerned when someone reminded him to stand away from the speaker. At least they had graduated from a football huddle to standing a little way apart. (I'm grasping at straws for something positive.)

The surge in patients in New York, which without proper preventive measures nationwide will look like a walk in the park in the rest of the U.S., is going to decimate the medical work-force. Even if none of us die, all of us are already traumatized by being told to go to work without proper protection. Some of us are already becoming ill, making it challenging to handle the volume of patients. All of us are anxious. And doctor burnout was already front-page news well before the first case of COVID-19. 

I think I am relatively intelligent, but there are many things I do not understand. If I am dead, how can I enjoy a robust economy? Should our priority be to shore up the markets by reversing what gains we may have made, through shut down and social distancing, against the viral spread?

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How is it possible that we have a man in the White House, with a supporting cast of characters unwilling to contradict him, who would sacrifice thousands of lives just to inflate the market? Or, heavens forbid, does he believe this is all going to be over in three weeks? What is the calculus he is using? How cynical can anyone be to choose deceit and death over truth and social responsibility? I'm a bit surprised we haven't heard praise, from Trump, of that selfish and irresponsible partier on a Florida beach, which we all saw on the news insisting that he doesn't care if he gets COVID-19. 

The horse is out of the barn. The only way to stem this explosive pandemic is social distancing and massive testing that results in intelligent quarantine. We won't know for weeks if the current efforts had much effect, and the surge has just started. Encouraging the American people to disregard what will assuredly be a lengthy and painful period of severe measures will cost many lives. It will do far more to destroy the economy than strict adherence to the best epidemiological practices. 

Four years ago, during the first Republican debate, "doctor" Trump announced that vaccines cause autism. At least he is consistent. Now, patients reliant on hydroxychloroquine to treat their severe illnesses are facing critical shortages.

Mr. President, please do not mistake unpublished, unverified, and uncontrolled reporting from some news organizations as scientific research. Lives are at stake. I hope you are right, but you are so wrong about how you might get there. The ends do not justify the means. Not in my America.

David Seres M.D. is an associate professor of medicine and associate clinical ethicist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.