Trump finally admits COVID-19 is a serious problem, just not his problem

ssheth@businessinsider.com (Sonam Sheth,John Haltiwanger)
·4 min read
Trump mask
President Donald Trump on July 11.

ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump finally acknowledged this week that COVID-19 is a serious problem in the US but stopped short of taking any responsibility for it.

  • Pundits and major news outlets praised the president's tone as "somber" and said it represented a pivot. 

  • But Trump's tone — which history suggests won't last — doesn't matter because the damage is already done, and it was largely self-inflicted.

  • As of Thursday, the disease had infected almost 4 million Americans and killed over 143,000 people in the country.

  • The US economy is also in shambles, and more Americans have died from the virus than in all US battles in every war since 1945.

When President Donald Trump resumed his coronavirus briefings this week, he didn't suggest disinfectant injections as a cure, undermine medical experts on his own coronavirus task force, or claim a pandemic that's infected nearly 4 million Americans is a hoax perpetrated by the fake-news media.

In other words, according to pundits, commentators, and some major media outlets, the president had pivoted to a serious and somber tone that fit the gravity of the moment.

But Trump's "new tone" (which history suggests won't last) doesn't matter. It came far too late, and Trump's actions speak louder than his words.

Starting in 2018, the Trump administration cut funding to critical agencies that were tasked with responding to a pandemic like what the US is currently facing. It also failed to replenish the low stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) that hospitals and community health centers rely on to effectively combat COVID-19.

The result was a beleaguered public health system scrambling to come to grips with a looming crisis and a disastrous failure to conduct early, rigorous testing.

Top public-health experts were warning as far back as January and February that the coronavirus was a serious threat that could have fatal consequences for the public. US intelligence officials also sounded the alarm about an impending pandemic more than a dozen times before it gained a foothold in the country.

Trump ignored them, demonized experts on his own task force, and insisted that the disease would disappear on its own. While officials were saying in February that cases would keep rising in the US, Trump told Americans the number of cases would be "close to zero" in a "couple of days."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its guidance on wearing face coverings in early April. Trump was first seen publicly wearing a face covering on July 11, more than three months after the CDC issued its recommendations.

On July 20, he tweeted a photo of himself wearing a black mask with a presidential seal, adding that "many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can't socially distance."

But late last month, the Trump campaign held two rallies — in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Phoenix, Arizona — that featured few masks and no social distancing. Both states have documented spikes in new cases in the days since.

The president also told The Wall Street Journal last month that Americans who wear face coverings were doing so just to show their disapproval of him and not as a preventive measure. In addition to downplaying their effectiveness, Trump in May also mocked former Vice President Joe Biden, his 2020 opponent, for wearing a mask.

Now, as new cases are once again on the rise, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway laid the blame on governors Wednesday for rushing their states' reopenings. She added that Republican and Democratic governors "pushed back heavily" when it was "falsely rumored" that Trump would be in charge of when states could reopen.

But Conway failed to mention that the president himself said in April he had "total authority" to compel states to restart their economies, even though few of them met the recommended criteria for doing so. Trump also attacked states that implemented strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus, and he called on protesters to "liberate" Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from their lockdowns.

Earlier this month, Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from schools (which he can't do) that don't reopen in the fall, despite public-health experts urging against it and as states see surges in new COVID-19 cases.

And in May, the White House forced the CDC to retract the original set of reopening guidelines it had put out for schools and churches and issue new guidance that was more lenient.

"It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better, something I don't like saying about things, but that's the way it is," Trump told reporters on Tuesday.

He was right.

The US economy is in shambles, and states across the country are scrambling to reimplement lockdown measures as new cases skyrocket. As of Thursday, COVID-19 had infected millions of Americans and killed over 143,000 people in the country, and overall, more Americans have died from the virus than in all US battles in every war since 1945.

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