OP-ED: America can overcome COVID-19, despite Trump's do-nothing approach. Here's how
President Donald Trump made clear his COVID-19 strategy at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, earlier this week.
It amounts to mass murder. Tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands more Americans will die unnecessarily if Trump wins another term.
He has thrown in the towel, adopting a do-nothing approach pending vaccines that won't be widely available until well into next year. "We are rounding the turn," he said (for the umpteenth time). "It's ending anyway. It's happening very quickly."
That is a gross lie. As cases spike nationwide, highly reputable scientific projections predict 160,000 to 275,000 more Americans could die by February or March of 2021, if concrete steps aren't taken. But Team Trump won't even try: His chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said Sunday, "We aren't going to control the pandemic." As if there is nothing to be done.
Yet there is plenty that could be done by a new president who doesn't play politics with COVID-19.
On Inquirer LIVE (watch my interview at inquirer.com/TrudyLive), the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the country's foremost experts on COVID-19 policy, laid out what a sane policy could still look like under a President Joe Biden, and what a Trump victory would mean.
"We're going to turn the corner into a bad fall and winter," says Emanuel.
Trump has admitted to journalist Bob Woodward he knew how serious the virus was back in February, yet "he refused to get the testing and tracing regime in order in March and April, when it mattered."
"Instead it was every state for themselves, a very conscious decision that led to a haphazard response that kept case rates and mortality rates up."
In other words, an effort to curb a nationwide pandemic can only be organized from the top, not left to governors, mayors and hospitals. "They needed a good management strategy," says Emanuel.
But if there's one thing we know about the "act-from-the-gut" Trump presidency, with its constant firings and denigration of experts, it's that the president can't manage COVID-19 or anything else.
Imagine if FDR had been in charge, or almost any GOP or Democratic White House until now. You would have had task forces, with top specialists to resolve bottlenecks on PPE and produce a quick, cheap test, says Emanuel. "You would have had one clear message."
"The post office was going to send every household five masks, which would have been an important public health strategy," he continued. But non-mask-wearing Trump officials, aware of their boss' mask-aversion, squashed the idea.
So what advice would Emanuel give a Biden administration?
1. "Start with communications."
"You need a clear message," says Emanuel, "with the president embodying the message," as Biden does with mask-wearing. "It needs to be depoliticized with scientists and public health officials coming forward."
Even today, some studies project that universal mask use could prevent 130,000 future COVID-19 deaths. Former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who caught a serious case at a White House superspreader event, has begged Americans to recognize that masks are "not a partisan or cultural symbol." That message won't take so long as Trump is around.
2. "There must be a management strategy, with the locus in the White House."
That means "appointing specific (competent) task forces" (including for testing, which must be greatly expanded).
"You need to upgrade or even create the technology for testing, contact tracing and vaccinations," says Emanuel. In Taiwan, which has one of the best records in the world in fighting the virus, and hardly any deaths, the country issues electronic health cards that provide real-time data.
3. "You need funding from Congress."
Emanuel says this is key so the public isn't tempted to break regulations and can afford to get tested.
4. "Build public trust."
Although Trump has ramped up efforts to produce a vaccine, polls show the bulk of Americans might not take it because they don't trust it will be safe. Emanuel says the process must be transparent and endorsed by top scientists.
Without trust Trump's touted vaccine effort will fail.
WHAT WOULD A TRUMP VICTORY MEAN FOR CURBING THE VIRUS?
If the president wins a second term, his strategy is to let things rip until the vaccine mirage solves everything. This "herd immunity" strategy argues lockdowns are too costly, so the vulnerable should be protected, while letting younger people get sick.
Emanuel argues that this concept "is bunk," because "more than 100 million Americans have some form of comorbidity that puts them at risk."
You can't easily separate out vulnerable groups like the elderly and some minority communities. And to achieve herd immunity around two-thirds of the country must get ill, meaning hundreds of thousands more Americans would die.
So voters have a choice. With a Biden management strategy, as Emanuel proposes, much of the country could carefully and gradually reopen, pending a vaccine sometime in 2021.
As for the alternative, "We are doing a great job," Trump insists. But if you believe that, you may be sentencing someone you love to an untimely death.
— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.