COVID-19: AMERICAN APOCALYPSE

By Mickey Skidmore, AMHSW, ACSW, MACSW

I’ll state first, that no one is holding Trump responsible for the novel coronavirus. However, his response, guidance and leadership from the Federal level has been nothing short of a devastating and unmitigated disaster. By the end of April 2020 I was becoming resigned to the notion that America might as well surrender — throw in the towel if you will.

Despite what Trump would say (or want you to believe), it has been well documented by this point from multiple, credible sources, that despite warnings as early as January 2020, Trump has minimised, ignored, mis-stepped, mis-informed, and mis-managed this pandemic crisis at nearly every step (other than his touted manoeuvre to shut down travel from China).

He has resisted or essentially refused to utilise his emergency Federal powers to ensure production of PPE supplies and testing equipment. By passing this off to Governors he inadvertently created a cut-throat distribution system where the states were competing for limited resources. There were even reports in the media of how states would secure supplies only to have the federal FEMA program to usurp these efforts and seize these supplies. There were also numerous reports of how the eventual distribution of these supplies were subsequently based on political ties and cronyism, not to mention out and out poor management.

Trump has completely side-stepped and downplayed the issue of testing altogether. His persistent boast that America has done more testing than any other country appears to rest on the total number of tests; despite testing a dismally small percentage of the country’s population as a more contextual comparison. In mid May Trump downplayed the importance of testing at all. The optics of his testing the staff of his inner circle were poor given the rest of the country does not have access to the same level of testing as the White House.

Many public health experts identify this as the primary initial “sin” or mis-step of the American pandemic. My own sense of this is that he found the public health reality of testing and contact tracing to simply be too daunting a task for him; which ironically he made even more difficult due to his mis-management and inaction of establishing a Federal distribution system of PPE equipment and ensuring that adequate testing be realistically available to the country. It was simply too hard hard for the stable genius to commit to.

Trump’s comments in mid May regrettably did not offer any improved adjustment to his thinking process on this matter, as reported by Sam Clench of News.com.au:

“If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases. This is a stupid statement. It is not “controversial” or “bizarre” or “unconventional”, or any of the other words we traditionally use to sanitise the absurd things that come out of Mr Trump’s mouth with such depressing regularity. It is just pure, weapons-grade stupid. It’s like saying that if you don’t use pregnancy tests, you’ll never have a baby. Or that if police stop investigating murders, the amount of crime will drop. If the United States tested fewer people, it would still have the same number of cases. The government would just have no idea where they were, and therefore no capacity to contain them. The virus would be allowed to spread undetected.”

In the meantime, his rush to return to a previous normal and “reopen the economy” is yet another quagmire. Despite not even one single state meeting the basic and initial guidelines set forth by his own administration to begin relaxing shelter-in-place restrictions; more than 30 states began pressing forward, all but ensuring an exacerbation of the virus spread across the heartland and throughout the rest of the country. The obvious reason many experts have concluded that a second wave is inevitable, is largely a result of these erratic and inconsistent efforts whereby the social distancing guidelines are ignored. By the first week in May, a majority of these states were showing an increase in confirmed CIVID-19 cases rather than the recommended reduction.

Just as the GOP has followed Trump’s pursuit of debunked conspiracy theories throughout his administration (i.e. Ukraine); he is now instructing his intelligence infrastructure to pursue his newest theory that the COVID-19 virus originated (perhaps by accident) from a mis-managed lab in China — despite this being in direct contrast with numerous scientific experts who widely believe that the virus was transmitted from animals to humans, and likely originated from a wet market in Wuhan.

Once again the GOP seem to be  in lock-step in their efforts to reducing the pandemic into political terms which reflect a divided nation — a blue vs red dichotomy; advancing a narrative that pits this crisis in typical divisive terms: the economy versus public health. Such talking points as “the cure can’t be worse than the disease” are frequent justification for oversimplified and misguided strategy. I think it is reasonable to state that nearly everyone wants things to return to normal. However, Trump and the GOP seem to be looking for a simply, easy or lucky manner in which to accomplish this. And in this crisis, that doesn’t seem to be a likely option. In order to safely re-open the economy, the pandemic must be dealt with. Ignoring the public health crisis will only make matters worse, and prolong the very goal you seek to accomplish.

I believe the effort to frame the issue in this manner is a false choice. The fact is these two positions are inextricably linked. Any reasonable view of facts and reality will reflect that the successful re-opening of the economy cannot realistically occur without addressing the public health issues of this pandemic. Ignoring the recommendations from health officials in favour of addressing economic or political concerns in the short-term will fail. You may “successfully” re-open businesses (restaurants, salons, sporting events, movie theatres, etc). So as the virus continues to spread, and increasing numbers of citizens die, this will only result in people becoming more afraid and fearful to venture out. After the initial surge (from being cooped up for the past 6 weeks), who will patronise the newly “re-opened” economy?

Many conservatives are drawn to Sweden’s approach to this pandemic. At least Sweden offers a clear intention of their plan. Trump is not smart enough to articulate such a strategy but alas, it appears that due to his dismal failure in managing the American apocalypse, by default he has taken his country down the path of throwing caution to the wind until such time as the country acquires herd immunity. And while this will ultimately become a reality, there will be considerable loss of life and carnage along the way before this occurs — in lieu of a vaccine, which despite any measure of optimism could potentially be years away.

Even in adopting such an approach, there should be national efforts to target areas where the risks of death from this virus is highest, such as nursing homes; assisted-living facilities; prisons; and meat distribution plants. Yet not surprisingly, there is little movement or national efforts in this regard either, despite alarming data to support that these are the areas of the greatest risk of further spread of this virus to the American heartland. The botched response from the federal government to this crisis, and the growing confirmations of subsequent COVID cases, and the insistence of relaxing social distancing measures in favour of opening public businesses serves as compelling evidence that the idea of containing this virus is over. Such a notion now is nothing more than a futile idea.

Trump’s directive of ordering meat distribution facilities to remain open is yet another half-assed example of his leadership, and a curious use of his broad federal powers (which he has been reluctant to utilise in other areas). Ordering them to remain open without requiring any specific strategies to mitigate the conditions that contribute to the spread of this virus is yet another example of how out of his depth this crisis is for him. Having the CDC offer half-hearted and unbinding “suggestions” for them to consider, rather than mandates to adhere to before being allowed to resume is inconsistent with previously similar circumstances. (One wonders why OASHA has not had more to say on this matter, or offered a single citation thus far?).

Sadly, Trump has demonstrated a pervasive ineptitude and inability to provide effective leadership of this crisis. Instead, his primary strategy would appear to be simply to gas light the country; and exploit the pulpit of the presidency for the sake of his own (small and petty) ego and political self-interests. He has effectively muzzled the voices of health experts around him and lashes out at anyone that contradicts the narrative of his happy talk and wishful thinking. And not surprisingly, he has governed in typical Trumpian style by insinuating (falsely) that he has ultimate and supreme authority, and simultaneously no responsibility for anything — including and especially the results of his leadership. In early May he blocked the CDC guidelines and recommendations for re-opening as they were not inline with his narrative.

It merits repeating — he has consistently and continuously mis-led, mis-managed, mis-informed, and lied — essentially adding to his well established disregard for the truth, facts and medical science. He has squelched and manipulated the voices of his scientific experts (and in several cased re-assigned, moved or fired people who have not adhered to his narrative). He has tightened his grip and control on the flow of virus information, much in the way a dictator would. He has shown an inability to convey general empathy, and instead heaps praise on himself and his administration’s “success story” in managing the pandemic, lamenting when he has not been given enough praise or credit for his handling of this crisis. He seems blind to the blatant hypocrisy of his being “lava-level made” over the White House staff not adequately protecting him from the risk of this virus — yet sees no connection to anyone else being equally mad at his botched response to this pandemic.

It is beyond ironic that the one, single, tangible thing he could do to model the mitigation of the virus spread (wear a mask) is the one thing he refuses to do. Instead, at nearly every turn he has opted instead to politicise this action. Rather, he opted to sensationalise the use of a drug that shows little to no evidence of efficacy in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. In fact, subsequent studies that have emerge have actually shown a greater risk of death in COVID-19 patients when this drug is included in treatment efforts.

Despite everything that Trump says, nearly four months into this crisis, there is zero evidence to support the availability of adequate testing; aggressive contract tracing; pursuing the role of antibodies for potential immunity; or the ability to quickly contain spiked or new outbreaks. These basic fundamentals are simply not in place in the USA — despite Herculean efforts on the part of many state Governors. Without this, the only realistic outcome given the current political climate is an eventual herd immunity. Rather than subject the American people to the endless drama his “cluster-fuck”, he should have simply adopted the Sweden strategy from the outset.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Clench, Sam. Coronavirus: Donald Trump’s laughable excuse for the scale of US     outbreak. news.com.au (17 May 2020).