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Donald Trump’s Magical Thinking About The Coronavirus

A car with President Trump drives past supporters in a motorcade outside of Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4, 2020. (Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images)
A car with President Trump drives past supporters in a motorcade outside of Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4, 2020. (Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images)

It brings me no joy to say this but of course, the president has coronavirus.

Virtually every decision that Donald Trump has made since the severity of this crisis became undeniable has rendered this moment all but inevitable.

When you believe that the virus is just a bad flu and will disappear; when you believe that masks are not necessary; when you believe that the unvetted half-baked notions from mooches and sycophants carry more weight than science — you may easily come to believe, and come to behave, as though your own choices do not matter.

Magical thinking may comfort you from reality but, in the end, cannot change it.

Magical thinking may occupy a news cycle, but it cannot impede the following one.

Magical thinking is not charming.

It is lazy.

Today is Day Zero. Let us reset.

If the president’s diagnosis and alarming clinical course over the past several days have not silenced any remaining doubters about the severity of COVID-19, we must simply brush their views aside as kooky and irrelevant and begin anew without their participation. We must develop an actual plan that will carry us through the fall and winter months — and beyond if necessary.

Today is Day Zero.

Let us reset.

Let us commit to truly doing something to stop the spread of this horrific disease while vaccine trials are completed.

Starting today, the full resources of the United States government should -- at long last -- be mobilized to ensure that there are enough affordable tests, masks, treatment and eventually, vaccines, for every American. Our own leaders are responsible for the state of affairs. Therefore, all of this must be free or affordable for everyone.

We have to modify our behaviors and do so in ways that do not further magnify the disproportionate suffering already visited upon Black, Latino and Native American people. We need to provide isolation for those who need it, especially those who live with at-risk persons.

White House physician Sean Conley answers questions surrounded by other doctors, during an update on the condition of President Donald Trump, on October 4, 2020, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
White House physician Sean Conley answers questions surrounded by other doctors, during an update on the condition of President Donald Trump, on October 4, 2020, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

After basic infrastructure and the health and medical sectors, we must prioritize schools as the single most essential business. Until case counts are low enough that all education can safely be conducted in-person, there should be no indoor restaurant dining and no medium-sized or large gatherings in communities with meaningful numbers of active cases. We need to produce scores of tents and heat lamps that will allow some activities that would normally take place indoors and move them outdoors. We need to invest in air filters and modernize our buildings for better circulation.

But before any of that, we need mask mandates for indoor activities and we need Congress to provide relief to Americans whose work cannot continue while we get things under control.

Meanwhile, we need to organize our research efforts. While the for-profit pharmaceutical industry has a role to play, experts at the National Institutes of Health must standardize research objectives and the desired outcomes of interest — which has been done in the United Kingdom — so that researchers with conflicts of interest do not game the system and mold their data to paint a rosy, but ultimately less useful, picture of their proposed therapeutics. We must spurn science by press release and we must demand transparency during the approval process, especially at the Food and Drug Administration, where politics has run amok.

Finally, we need to have confidence in our public health agencies and our leaders. Two steps would be helpful. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be given the resources to collect and report all of the relevant information that the public and health officials need, without competing with other less prepared agencies, and without political interference. We need live data on case counts, hospitalization, mortality and more. We need demographic breakdowns for every iota of data so that we can monitor in as close to realtime as possible the effect that the virus is having in our most at-risk communities.

Second, the teams at the White House (and, at the moment, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) must commit to transparency and integrity. The president’s team cannot be permitted to change its story from day-to-day for the purposes of optics. They must provide the American public with accurate information, or plainly state that they are not able to provide any information at all.

On Sunday, the president said he had “learned a lot” about coronavirus during his hospitalization. Obviously, he had not learned nearly enough from the deaths of over 200,000 Americans ...

We are now in our 10th month of this crisis. We have more than enough knowledge to guide our efforts to control this virus and do so in ways that will propel our economic recovery, not hinder it.

On Sunday, the president said he had “learned a lot” about coronavirus during his hospitalization. Obviously, he had not learned nearly enough from the deaths of over 200,000 Americans, including some of his own friends and colleagues. If only he had truly listened to the stories that my fellow physicians on the frontlines have been telling for months and months.

Regardless, I’m glad he is catching up. But I remain unsure whether he and his supporters realize that letting the disease run its course — the herd immunity strategy — is a fundamentally flawed strategy that is doomed to fail. It costs lives and does nothing to reassure the public so that they can go about “business as usual.” For too long, many have been left to wonder whether our efforts to control this disease might somehow be worse than the virus itself. It is my hope that in his recovery, President Trump finally realizes that this disease truly is far, far worse than the cure.

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Jeremy S. Faust Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Dr. Jeremy S. Faust is an attending physician in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine in the Division of Health Policy and Public Health and is an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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