After months of downplaying the danger of COVID-19, President Trump and the First Lady have tested positive, and on Friday the president was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center “for the next few days” as a “precautionary measure.”
On Saturday, a series of confusing and contradictory updates, official and unofficial, on the president’s state landed in addition to the spread of confusion. by the president on the virus.
He is not the first national leader to be affected by the virus and, when he recovers, the question may be which example he follows: that of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
It has been confirmed that Bolsonaro, who like Trump rejected the impact of the virus, had COVID-19 in July, recovered relatively quickly and then continued to dismiss the threat of the pandemic. Brazil’s COVID-19 deaths, at nearly 150,000, are second in the world after the United States.
When Johnson, who had also initially taken a lax approach to the threat, contracted the virus in March, he found himself in the intensive care unit and spent a solid month away from the spotlight. Surveys show that government approval, rather than increasing after its takeover, has started to decline steadily. Although Britain’s national leadership has not made the effort to contain the spread and Britain continues to lead the European continent in numbers of cases, Johnson’s rhetoric around the virus and attitudes of the public at large have become much more cautious after their own experience with him.
There is a chance that Trump can follow this path and start taking the pandemic seriously, and commit to implementing public health measures that we know will reduce infections. But if Trump recovers, like many patients, only develops mild symptoms (about 60% of people who catch COVID-19 continue to develop symptoms, but only about 20% are at risk of serious illness) and recover smoothly brushing her with COVID could easily reinforce her denial and become more wheat for the mill – political fodder to restore voter confidence and support as election night approaches. If he denounces the virus and then loses office, many of his staunch supporters would likely be all the less willing to heed the advice of scientists and doctors during a Biden administration.
From the start, Trump denied the severity of this disease. Its ignorance of science and mockery of preventative security measures have arguably left millions of Americans needlessly vulnerable to infection. Instead of putting in place a robust testing regime and social and economic assistance programs, Trump has disseminated harmful false information about treatment and discouraged protections as basic as wearing a mask. Rather than hold himself accountable and his government, he blamed his political opponents every moment.
This is his last best chance to change that dynamic. If Trump instead maintains this position even after putting himself, his family and those around him in danger, the ramifications would be deadly. In the best-case scenario, where mask-wearing is universally enforced across the country, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that we could limit the number of deaths to 273,000 by the end of this year. Still too high a number, but imagine what would happen if Trump recovered and used the momentum to ease the few restrictions we have in place. According to the same projection, up to half a million lives could be lost.
It is not yet clear in which direction Trump’s illness will evolve or how he could divert the result for political ends. Regardless of the direction of their illness or their judgment, there is one thing every American should be keenly aware of with today’s news: This virus knows no bounds.
The President and the First Lady have entire teams of people to scan every room before entering and filter every person they meet. The bathrooms they use are meticulously cleaned and disinfected to prevent disease. And, unlike the majority of Americans, they have immediate and unhindered access to COVID-19 testing. Yet their willingness to ignore basic health protocols like wearing masks and social distancing may have brought them to where they are today, as vulnerable as any of us.
Until we recognize our personal responsibility to stop spreading the virus – until everyone does their part by wearing masks, agreeing to quarantines and refusing invitations to large gatherings – we will never contain COVID-19. Hopefully the president will begin to communicate this message to the American people.
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