We will not wish this pandemic away.
This is why President Trump’s wistful timetable for an end to many of the measures intended to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 is so troublesome.
The president this week chose April 12 as a target date for “opening” the country for business as usual, well, because it sounded like a good time. He didn’t base this goal on science or data or empirical benchmarks. He just proclaimed it out of the blue.
We appreciate the optimism and we hope the president is right. But his sunny pronouncement seems about as rooted in reality as the Easter Bunny. Which is to say, it may raise unrealistic expectations. It may also make some people continue not to take this global pandemic as seriously as they should.
“The threat of this virus is on a scale that most have yet to fully grasp,” William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week. “Everyone should understand that we are still in the early stages of this pandemic.”
As painful as the economic fallout is, the best prescription, say experts, is to “flatten the curve” of infection first, then put people back to work. The president seemed finally convinced of the virus’ magnitude after downplaying it. But now (yet again) he seems only marginally interested in what science (and U.S. intelligence agencies) are telling him.
This isn’t the first time. The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. intelligence agencies were giving President Trump and senior members of Congress warnings in January and February that should have triggered immediate reactions to COVID-19. In an interview
Jan. 22 in Switzerland, Trump told CNBC that we shouldn’t worry about the outbreak in China turning into a global pandemic. “It’s going to be just fine,” he said. “We have it totally under control.”
In January and February, intelligence officials also were warning Trump and others that Chinese officials were minimizing the coronavirus situation, and that it was spreading rapidly in other countries. But on Jan. 24, Trump publicly praised his “friend,” Chinese President Xi Jingping, for his hard work and told us “It will all work out well.”
Trump and lawmakers should have told public health professionals so they could begin to prepare. They should have directed agencies to provide tests and fast-track efforts toward a vaccine. They should have informed governors. Instead, when a top Centers for Disease Control official told reporters on Feb. 25 that the coronavirus was likely to severely disrupt daily life here, Trump reportedly called her boss to complain that she was scaring the stock markets.
Officials in the know should have been honest with the public so that we could prepare, and so that anyone who developed a strange illness would take it seriously. They should have been honest so that when conditions started to worsen, some people wouldn’t keep insisting that there’s no danger.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Trump’s medical advisers, told NPR on Thursday that the April 12
target is both “aspirational” and “flexible.” But it would be helpful if the president would have made that clear himself.
We all want this to end. We all want to be able to work and play in a manner we’re used to.
Americans have sacrificed for the greater good before and we can now.
But, first, we need our leaders to tell it to us straight. Starting at the top.