Trump’s Covid legacy: 402,269 Americans dead after former president claimed virus will ‘disappear’

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Danielle Zoellner
·4 min read
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Trump boards Marine One as his one-term presidency comes to an end (AFP via Getty Images)
Trump boards Marine One as his one-term presidency comes to an end (AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump has officially closed out his term as president at a time when the coronavirus death toll has surpassed 400,000 Americans dead – despite the president initially claiming the virus would “disappear”.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” Mr Trump said on 27 February, 2020.

But America was still waiting on that “miracle”.

Mr Trump left office with 24,255,934 coronavirus cases and 402,269 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This death toll was nearly equal to how many American soldiers died during World War II, which stands at about 405,000, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The virus was surging in a majority of states across the country, impacting hospital systems who are battling to care for all individuals who come in.

The former president did not create the virus, but he has been long criticised for his lack of response to the global pandemic.

When Mr Trump entered his final year of his presidency, the country’s first coronavirus case was detected on 22 January.

“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,” Mr Trump said at the time.

He went on to close off some flights to and from China, but many people were still able to fly from the hotspot country back to the US. At the same time, the virus was surging through Europe and yet flights to the US remained open.

Mr Trump did not grasp the potential detrimental impact of the novel virus until March, despite all the warnings he had from key advisers and health officials.

“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency ... This is going to be the roughest thing you face," Mr Trump’s National Security Advisor told the then-president on 28 January.

But the rhetoric did not change from the White House following those meetings. Instead, Mr Trump informed Americans that the virus was “like a flu” and “the 15 [cases in the US] within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Privately during this time, though, Mr Trump admitted to veteran journalist Bob Woodward that the virus was “deadly stuff” and more “strenuous” than the flu.

An estimated 34,200 Americans died during the 2018 to 2019 flu season, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Once the true extent of the virus was known, Mr Trump briefly closed down the economy during the month of April to stop the spread of the virus. But with the economy tanking, this influenced him to pull back on restrictions and recommendations – going as far as to encourage Americans to leave their homes and resume normal life.

He has since taken a backseat in responding to the virus, leaving it largely up to states to set restrictions, test individuals, and administer the vaccine. All of this while cases and deaths continued their steady increase into the winter months.

“We are rounding the turn [on the coronavirus],” Mr Trump repeated multiple times in August, September, and October as he ran for his second presidential term. But that corner never came. Coronavirus fatigue, a lack of federal government direction, and holiday travel further exacerbated the viral surge.

The US was now averaging more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths per day, making it the leading cause of death in the country.

One reason why Mr Trump’s response was so poor was his complete disregard for science and what health officials recommend in responding to the virus. He even admitted to not wanting to follow the science when telling voters why they should vote for him over President Joe Biden.

"[Mr Biden will] listen to the scientists... If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression instead — we’re like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers,” Mr Trump said during a campaign rally in October.

But the economy has not soared during the pandemic, as some states have been forced to shut down businesses for a second time in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and relieve their overflowing hospital systems.

Mr Trump was leaving office with three million fewer jobs than when he entered office in January 2017, pushing back on claims the former president created the "greatest economy in the history of our country.”

It comes as no surprise that the US economy would suffer under the global pandemic, as a key way to control the spread of the virus has been to shut down businesses. But Mr Trump’s lack of response to the virus, as well as politicising key health measures like mask wearing and social distancing, has influenced how Americans have altered their lives under the pandemic.

The former president left the White House for the final time on Wednesday morning with his coronavirus legacy of a surging virus left for Mr Biden to now manage under his own administration.

Who was unable to watch the transition from a Trump administration to a Biden administration? The 402,269 Americans who’ve died from Covid-19.

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