Dr Anthony Fauci (R) reacts to a statement by Donald Trump at a White House briefing on Coronavirus, March 20, 2020
Defying America’s top medical and public health expects, Donald Trump tries to roll back days-old Administration guidance to restrict the spread of Coronavirus across the US.
Trump trumpeted to a White House briefing on Monday that he expected social distancing guidelines to last only 15 days: “America will again and soon be open for business — very soon. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
The announcement followed an 18-hour campaign that began with Trump’s tweet on Sunday night, even as the US is facing a critical shortage of medical supplies and confirmed cases soared above the 40,000 marks — including more than 10,000 in New York City.
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
Trump — or his staff — then spent Monday morning retweeting messages from users — such as “Dawn Michael, PhD — @SexCounseling”, “Renee Williams — @FedUpMil”, and “@Steph93065” — demanding the lifting of the guidance after 15 days.
The chief White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, told Trump’s favored outlet Fox: “The President is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease. And we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs.”
By Monday night, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was announcing on Fox that mass deaths of the elderly would be acceptable.
Tx Lt Gov Dan Patrick says grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy for their grandchildren pic.twitter.com/wC3Ngvtsbj
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) March 24, 2020
The guidelines were finally issued on March 16 on the advice of Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They include school closures; avoidance of groups of more than 10 people; and a halt to non-essential travel and visits to bars, restaurants, and food courts.
Fauci had recommended the steps for weeks but Trump, denying any significant issue with Coronavirus and pushing falsehoods and disinformation about the situation, had resisted.
However, the Administration was pushed into action by State and local governments and by private organizations suspending events and closing down public spaces.
Sixteen states, with more than 40% of the US population, have issued stay-at-home orders. On Monday, Oregon and Ohio joined the list, which includes California, New York, and Illinois.
Trump’s Economy Priority
Since the start of the crisis, Trump’s priority has been the US stock market, which has dropped more than 35% since February 21, and the effect on his chances for re-election in November. The concern was compounded on Monday by reports that US unemployment in the April-June 2020 quarter could reach 30%, a level higher than that during the Depression of the 1930s.
“Several people with knowledge of the internal deliberations” said “business leaders, Republican lawmakers and conservative economists” were urging Trump to lift the restrictions.
Trump effectively sneered at his medical advisors — including Fauci, who was absent — during the briefing.
If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world . . . and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years. We can’t do that.
He tried to minimize the situation by knocking back a Fauci statement about the depth of the crisis, “You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. So we have to do things to get our country open.”
The nation’s top infectious diseases had said on Friday that it was a “false equivalency” to compare Coronavirus to authomobile accidents: That’s totally way out….I don’t think with any moral conscience you could say why don’t we just let it rip and happen and let X percent of the people die.”
Trump also recycled the argument of Coronavirus deniers that the illness is no worse than the “common flu”.
Challenged about whether any doctors on his team have endorsed easing the guidelines, Trump said they had “not endorsed” but “I think they’re okay with it, and I’m okay with it.”
In response to a question about whether a single public health expert said it's okay to reopen the economy, Trump says, "the doctors, if it was up to the doctors, they'd say 'let's shut down the entire world'"
(In other words, not one did) pic.twitter.com/ERFhIe7Kgu
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 23, 2020
Where’s Dr Fauci?
Fauci was not present to respond.
Where is Dr. Fauci?
A WH official tells me "Dr. Fauci attended today’s Task Force briefing in person in addition to other White House meetings. As promised when we started Coronavirus briefings at the White House, we would be rotating briefers depending on the news of the day."
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) March 23, 2020
Instead the White House coordinator for the response, Dr Deborah Birx, met Trump’s timeframe — and exceeded it — by speaking of a week’s window to deal with the situation: “I think over this week, we‘re concentrated on figuring out exactly where the virus is and making projections about where it‘s going and the impact of our mitigation pieces.”
Asked if Trump’s pressure for rollback might undermine the Administration’s social distancing guidance, Birx argued that people might adhere more closely if they knew would be in place for only another week.
She did not refer to the medical consequences of lifting the guidelines too soon.
Fauci spoke, in an interview published on Sunday, about dealing with Trump’s misinformation and falsehoods.
The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, “By the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that.” But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.