PerryScope: The politicization of Coronavirus


By Perry Diaz

In an attempt to downplay the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump ignored the gravity of the disease by misleading the public.  But the public isn’t buoyed by Trump’s soft-pedaling his assessment of coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19).  Instead, it further raised concerns and fears among Americans.  As Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), when told that Trump believes that COVID-19 is like a seasonal flu that will go away in the summer, he reacted, “It is ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”  Ominously, Dr. Fauci said, “The worst is yet to come.”

Yet, Trump doesn’t seem to be perturbed, which makes one wonder: What’s on his mind?

On February 25, Trump promised that a vaccine would be available soon. “Now they have it, they have studied it, they know very much, in fact, we’re very close to a vaccine,” Trump said during his state visit to India. That is impossible even if development of a vaccine is prioritized.  Pharmaceutical executives explained that to Trump himself.   Dr. Fauci estimates that it would be at least a year or a year and a half before a vaccine would be available to the general public.

On February 28, Trump, speaking at a press conference, said that COVID-19 would “disappear” like a “miracle.”  He speculated that warm weather would kill the virus and stop its spread.  Four days later, he told reporters that it “will go away.”  While it may be true that seasonal flu might diminish in warmer seasons, there is currently no evidence the COVID-19 would behave this way.

Blame game

At first, Trump blamed an Obama-eraFDA rule for its slow response in distributing test kits, but experts have since revealed that claim to be false.  The shortage has prevented isolating those infected and quarantining them in order to not spread some more.  It’s simple — if people don’t know they have it, they aren’t able to take their own steps to prevent spreading it to others.

Last March 11, Trump addressed the nation.  But instead of allaying fears, he created panic when he announced that flights from Europe to the U.S. would be cancelled beginning March 13 midnight for 30 days without consulting with European leaders.

But Trump, true to his penchant for hyperbole, said: “Because of all I’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” in an attempt to downplay the severity of the outbreak. “We’ve had tremendous success beyond what people would have thought,” he added.

By trying to downplay the pandemic, Trump tried to reassure the jittery public but instead created a great deal of tension when the number of coronavirus victims doubled every three days.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The problem is that there is not enough test kits available for distribution, which makes the extent of the disease unknown.

But what epidemiologists fear most is the health care system becoming overwhelmed by a sudden explosion of illness that requires more people to be hospitalized than it can handle. In that scenario, more people will die because there won’t be enough hospital beds or ventilators to keep them alive.

Disbanding Pandemic Response Unit

During a congressional hearing on a proposed 15 percent cut to the $1.2 billion CDC budget and a $35 million cut to the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund’s annual contribution to the White House’s proposed 2021 budget, the White House Office of Management and Budget defended the proposed cuts, which included disbanding the Pandemic Response Unit.

Trump’s unconscionable act has led to total unpreparedness of the government to respond rapidly to pandemic outbreaks like the novel coronavirus, which caused the government to fail in conducting timely testing of Americans suspected of virus infection.  The question is: what was in Trump’s mind when he disbanded the Pandemic Response Unit?  One thing that came to mind was Trump’s aversion to everything that former president Barack Obama created or instituted.  Obama created the Pandemic Response Unit during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which was to prepare the government for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.

Now that the Covid-19 outbreak has rapidly grown into a pandemic, Trump is caught napping, not knowing how to respond and act quickly to the spreading community transmission and exponential growth of coronavirus.

Last March 13, on a televised speech from the Oval Office, Trump declared national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal resources to combat coronavirus.

When Trump was asked on whether closing the Pandemic Response Unit slowed the U.S. response, the president called it a “nasty” question, claiming his administration had acted quickly and saved lives.  However, he denied knowing about the disbandment of the Pandemic Response Unit. “I don’t know anything about it,” he said, which just shows that he’s not in control.  Earlier, when asked about it, he said: “This is something that you can never really think is going to happen.”  Well, he’s been warned not to disband it.


Back in mid-2018, Fauci told Congress: “When you have a respiratory virus that can be spread by droplets and aerosol and … there’s a degree of morbidity associated with that, you can have a catastrophe. … The one that we always talk about is the 1918 pandemic, which killed between 50 and 100 million people. … Influenza first, or something like influenza, is the one that keeps me up at night.”

A recent article says, “ Given the current rate of expansion – and assuming exponential growth – the virus could infect one billion people within 81 days (up over age around 10x every 16 days).”

Throughout the time Trump has managed the coronavirus crisis, he made several missteps that some health experts say have aggravated the crisis. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said, blaming previous administrations for the problems that led to the slow distribution of test kits.

Meanwhile, the stock market nose-dived wiping out gains made from the time he took office.  As he attempted to contain the coronavirus fallout, the economy is plunging into recession.  And the American people are concerned that instead of addressing the issues, he tries to sidestep them.

During his daily press briefing on March 20, Trump lambasted an NBC reporter who asked, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”  It ticked him off!

“I say that you are a terrible reporter,” Trump blurted out. “It’s a very nasty question. It’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.  The American people are looking for answers and looking for hope. You’re doing sensationalism.”

Bad signal?  Heck, the reporter was just wondering what’s in Trump’s mind?  But that’s typical Trumpian mindset.  He loves to paint bold strokes of colorful scenarios about his presidency and ignores facts and details that could hurt him politically and lose in his re-election bid.  Indeed, every move he makes points toward a path to victory on Election Day in November.  He simply cannot afford to lose the election.  But the handwriting is on the wall: He would lose the presidency.  He made that irreversible when he disbanded the Pandemic Response Unit in 2018.  If no vaccine is developed by November, more than half the population of the U.S. may be infected by Covid-19.

He downplays the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has exponentially exploded in all 50 states in a matter of weeks, which the NBC reporter was just trying to elicit a response from Trump.  He could have responded, “I know it scares the hell out American people but I want to tell them that I am doing everything I can to alleviate their fears and concerns.  That’s why I asked Congress to pass a $1-trillion stimulus bill that contains $500 billion in direct payments to Americans.”

But instead of providing the leadership in bringing the American people together to fight an invisible enemy, Trump blamed the Democrats and his predecessors for the crisis that befell the nation, which makes one wonder:  Why is Trump politicizing the coronavirus pandemic?  It’s a public health issue that should be dealt with in a nonpartisan fashion.

The late president Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that says, “The buck stops here.”  Trump should be reminded that taking responsibility for failure comes with the territory.  He cannot blame his predecessors.  It’s his to bear.