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EDITORIAL: Time to hold Trump accountable

York Dispatch Editorial Board

For once, the question of what did he know and when did he know it has been answered clearly and succinctly by the man in question.

By Feb. 7, President Donald Trump knew the dangers of the novel coronavirus, how easily it is spread and how much damage it could cause.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” Trump said in a call with journalist Bob Woodward.

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

And yet, what did the president do? Nothing. Actually, worse than nothing. He deliberately downplayed the risk that the disease could pose to the health of the country and to the economy.

"I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine,” Trump told Fox Business on Feb. 10.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event on judicial appointments, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Do you remember February? It seems like it's been decades since then. The first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was confirmed Jan. 21 in Washington state, and the first U.S. death was Feb. 6, according to a timeline from CNN. 

On Feb. 25, just weeks before much of the country was forced to shut down because of the pandemic, Trump declared the virus “very well under control in our country.”

On March 13, he declared a national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal resources.

And yet, by mid-March, Trump was refusing to help governors calling for release of personal protective equipment and ventilators from national stockpiles that were supposed to be available for use in emergencies. 

“The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk," he said publicly on March 19.

But privately, he said he was deliberately minimizing the danger the virus posed. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward in March. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

He's certainly done well at that. After officials in April said people should wear masks in public spaces to guard against the transmission of the virus, Trump refused to wear one for two months, and he has since stopped covering his face in public. He harangued governors who imposed shutdowns, he has said the virus will "disappear like magic," he touts "cures" and insists beyond reason that a vaccine will be available before Election Day.

And his supporters have followed his lead all the way, from protesting state shutdowns to refusing to take the simple precaution of wearing a mask to insisting that the novel coronavirus is a hoax or no worse than a cold.

Meanwhile, 191,000 Americans have died and almost 6.4 million cases have been confirmed in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins. In York County, 3,929 people have had the virus, and 132 have died.

What would the world be like if Trump had said what he knew in February, that the coronavirus is deadly and transmitted through the air? What if, instead of trying to downplay it and ridicule people who were trying to stop the spread, he had come out in favor of a brief shutdown or even just wearing masks? 

But he didn't. Instead, Trump lied to the public, repeatedly, on an issue of literal life and death. He refused to follow a playbook left by the Obama administration, which successfully dealt with the H1N1 pandemic in 2009-10, when 60.8 million cases were seen in the U.S. and 12,469 deaths but the country didn't shut down and hospitals didn't ask personnel to make one mask last for a week and wear garbage bags as gowns. 

He's had more than enough time to make this right. It's time Congress, and for the country, to hold Trump accountable for the preventable deaths that happened on his watch.