On March 13th, almost two full months after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States, President Trump declared a state of emergency and began to rapidly allott federal funds to help research and combat the virus, as well as provide medical supplies to hospitals fighting rapidly growing case numbers. Administration officials close to the White House were quick to praise the President’s efforts and forecasted that the country would re-open in a matter of weeks, contrary to the advice of numerous health officials. President Trump’s management of the coronavirus epidemic has been an extreme case of too little too late. His failure to recognize the danger posed by the virus earlier and his heavy politicization of the issue have escalated the crisis in America far past the more moderate infectious course the virus could have taken.
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in America was recorded on January 21st, just a few weeks after the outbreak began to grow in severity in China at the end of December 2019. Although the number of cases in the US remained relatively low in January, President Trump repeatedly ignored warnings from senior officials in his administration about how quickly the virus could spread. According to the New York Times, when informed by health and human services secretary Alex Azar about the possibility of a pandemic stemming from the virus, Trump denounced his warnings as alarmist and opted to focus on stimulating economic growth instead of monitoring the spread of the virus. When Azar attempted to establish a tracking system in five American cities to develop a model for the future spread of the virus, the project was delayed for weeks as the virus spread unmitigated. This delay, as well as the failure of the Trump administration to develop a widespread testing system prevented scientists from determining how fast or where the virus was spreading. By the time that President Trump publicly enforced social distancing recommendations in mid-March, hospitals around the country were already struggling to keep up with infection rates.
At the same time that he was failing to address the coronavirus crisis on an appropriate scale, President Trump was sowing discord in his own cabinet and with the groups he has long considered his political enemies. Repeatedly in February and early March, Trump stated that the gravity of the virus was being grossly overstated by Democrats and the media, and repeatedly fought with administration officials that suggested he take a harder stance on combating the virus. As the officials he claimed to be alarmist turned out to be accurate in their predictions of the pandemic’s severity, Trump begrudgingly accepted their models only to quickly claim that “the media and Democrats” refused to acknowledge the crisis while he strived to take responsibility, according to a White House spokesperson. The President’s inability to accept the fallacies in his own response and determination to stifle any disagreement over his reaction to the coronavirus greatly slowed progress in establishing relief programs and a cohesive national plan.
Now in late April, the Trump administration has recommended nationwide stay-at-home orders and the rate of infection in most US cities has begun to drop. While it appears that we are on the road to recovery from this crisis, we have undoubtedly been slowed ultimately by the President’s ignorant and prideful response.
By Julianna Baldo