The Trump administration’s approach to the COVID-19 outbreak among its top officials shows many of the same problems of its overall approach to the pandemic.
There’s been little to no transparency, mixed messaging, a continued lack of respect for public health recommendations, and a futile effort to paint a rosy picture amid an evolving crisis.
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Over a dozen people in President Donald Trump’s orbit, along with the president himself, have tested positive for COVID-19 after the White House held what appears to be a super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to announce the president’s Supreme Court nominee a little over a week ago.
Based on the nature of the virus, that number could easily rise in the coming days.
The president has been hospitalized after being diagnosed with the virus last week and the list of top officials in the White House who’ve contracted the virus is expanding rapidly.
The Trump administration’s handling of this evolving internal health crisis, which also has major external consequences for the country and wider world, is near-identical to its approach to the US outbreak.
Since Trump’s diagnosis and the fallout, the White House has more or less ignored calls for transparency about Trump’s health from top public health experts and even Republicans in Congress.
“A significant increase in conspiracy theories & outrageous claims since the President’s diagnosis. Lies spread much faster than fact checking. This is why we need frequent, detailed & transparent updates from @WhiteHouse. And why we should all be skeptical of outlandish rumors,” GOP Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on Friday.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, over the weekend called for “radical transparency” on Trump’s condition.
But the administration is refusing to give the public basic information and updates on the president’s condition, and Trump reportedly did not disclose he had a positive result via rapid COVID-19 test on Thursday evening as he awaited the results of another, more thorough test.
Similarly, the administration has repeatedly sought to block vital information on the pandemic from reaching the public, such as interfering with reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to ensure they did not clash with Trump’s optimistic messaging on the virus, per a recent report from Politico.
The messaging from the White House on Trump’s health has often been extremely mixed, leading to suspicions of a cover-up.
In the first briefing on Trump’s status on Saturday, White House physician Sean Conley dodged questions on whether the president had been given supplemental oxygen and did not disclose that Trump was administered a steroid typically used on patients with severe cases of the virus.
Conley finally offered those details on Sunday, stating that he didn’t initially disclose the information because he wanted to offer a positive picture to the public. This was akin to Trump telling veteran journalist Bob Woodward in a recently disclosed March interview that he deliberately downplayed the threat of COVID-19 to the public in order to avoid causing “panic.” But in the case of both the US outbreak and Trump’s experience with COVID-19, this administration’s approach has caused more confusion than calm.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to flout public health recommendations as cases within the White House continue to rise. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive for the virus on Monday. The day before, she could be seen addressing reporters without a mask on. Last week, a senior official told the Associated Press that wearing masks would continue to be a “personal choice” in the White House, despite the president’s diagnosis.
Trump’s refusal to wear a mask in public, and his insistence on ignoring guidance from top public health experts, was designed to paint a rosy picture for a country that has the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the developed world. The anti-science, nonchalant, reckless approach to the virus from the administration has set a bad example for the country, according to medical experts, and is now wreaking havoc within the White House.
More than three-in-five voters said Trump did not do enough to protect himself from getting the virus, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Monday.
Despite the situation, Trump appears determined to convince Americans that everything is fine, regardless of the consequences for those around him. The president on Sunday took a car ride near Walter Reed, where he’s being treated, to wave at supporters who’d gathered nearby. Medical professionals were aghast, stating that Trump needlessly placed the lives of Secret Services agents at risk for “political theater.”
Trump on Monday afternoon tweeted that he would leave the hospital later in the day, taking the opportunity to once again downplay a virus that’s killed over 209,000 Americans.
“Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Trump tweeted.