It is a national crisis when the president of the United States has a head cold, must less a deadly infectious disease that’s claimed more than a million lives worldwide — including more than 207,000 Americans.
President Donald Trump posted on Twitter early Friday morning that he and wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen tested negative Friday morning, a welcome bit of news.
According to national reporting, the president is experiencing “mild symptoms” from the disease and will quarantine for the near future. All Americans, whatever their political leaning or feeling toward this president, should wish for his speedy and full recovery.
Some will be tempted to see this as a sort of cosmic comeuppance for a president who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus, knowing full well just how scary it is. Trump has dismissed mask requirements, touted unproven cures, promised the virus would disappear and held large rallies — including in Newport News recently — with unmasked crowds.
Amid a health emergency, he has sidelined infectious disease experts who refused to confirm his assumptions about the coronavirus, and amplified voices without the experience or know-how to lead at this critical moment.
Most unfortunately, he eschewed protection for himself. He refused to wear a mask, even in crowded and heavily populated indoor spaces, and taken few precautions to insulate himself as public guidance encourages Americans to do.
That irresponsibility now threatens his health and that of the people around him, including White House staff and those who maintain the executive residence. And it creates uncertainty about continuity of government should — heaven forbid — the virus incapacitate the president in any fashion.
Americans who disagree with or dislike this president may call this justice, but it is not. Such a tawdry reaction ignores the need for a commander-in-chief who is alert and engaged and who oversees a branch of government with 4 million civilian and military employees.
There is nothing good about introducing uncertainty and chaos into any of that. President Trump may not always be a steady hand on the tiller, but it’s important that someone is steering the ship.
No, this episode is a shame, for the president and this country, and could have long-term complications for Trump’s health. That is deeply worrisome.
The president’s infection is evidence of the science the world has known for months: This is a very real, very dangerous and very deadly disease, and something to take seriously. It’s why we have social distancing and mask requirements, limits on business capacity and a ban on large public gatherings.
The virus is the reason many Americans — far too many Americans — have lost a family member, loved one or friend. Helping flatten the infection curve and protect the nation’s health care system has required enormous sacrifices which the nation, for the most part, willingly embraced. They cannot be repaid.
When the outbreak began, historians compared it to the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. That pandemic infected about 500 million people, or one-third of the Earth’s population, and killed an estimated 50 million people, including about 675,000 in the United States.
Medical advances since then have made a tremendous difference with this coronavirus, helping to save lives and reduce the severity of infection. Better personal hygiene cannot be overlooked either, since it allows people to wash their hands more frequently and limit the spread.
As now, the virus did not spare the White House. According to the Washington Post, President Woodrow Wilson became ill in April 1919, which his closest aides tried to keep secret. Wilson was confined to bed and suffered hallucinations before recovering.
Let us hope President Trump and his wife are spared such agony, and that they make a full and swift return to health quickly. And let us redouble our efforts to be smart, safe and vigilant in our fight against this disease.
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