We’re 10 months into the pandemic and the outlook for the United States is worse than ever. Coronavirus cases are spiking to unseen levels across the country, with a record of nearly over 97,000 cases reported on Friday alone. As hospitals in dozens of states begin filling, health experts look wearily to the weeks ahead. Cold weather and a series of holidays will undoubtedly bring people indoors and together, showering gasoline on the current inferno of disease transmission.
Yet despite the grim reality, President Donald Trump and his administration have spent the last days before the presidential election not addressing the dire crisis but instead downplaying the tragedy and attacking public health experts and frontline workers. Trump’s coronavirus advisor, Scott Atlas, even appeared on a Russian propaganda television show to defend the administration’s response, in which he echoed his previous false and misleading claims about the pandemic.
On Friday, Trump himself falsely claimed doctors are inflating the number of coronavirus deaths for money. In response, the president of the American Medical Association, Susan Bailey, called Trump’s false statement “malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided.”
“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work—wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” Dr. Bailey said in a statement.
Nevertheless, Trump’s senior advisor, Jason Miller, doubled down on the false statement in a Sunday interview with ABC’s This Week, baselessly suggesting that “there have been all sorts of independent things pointing to that.”
At a late-night rally on Sunday, Trump went on to suggest he would fire the country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, after the election. The comment came after Trump made his oft-repeated complaints that the raging public health crisis in the United States is receiving more news coverage than it should. This prompted his audience to begin chanting “Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci.”
“Don’t tell anybody,” Trump responded, “but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice.”
“Whole lot of hurt”
Throughout his late-stage campaigning, Trump has held (mostly maskless) rallies and touted the idea that his administration has successfully responded to the pandemic. He has repeatedly stated the false claim that the United States is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
Leading public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, have pushed back on this untrue claim.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci told The Washington Post in an interview late Friday. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
In the interview, Fauci also blasted Scott Atlas, who is Trump’s most trusted advisor on the coronavirus crisis despite not having a background in infectious disease.
“I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas in his interview with the Post. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Most notably, Atlas has generally promoted the dangerous idea of herd immunity, or letting the virus spread uncontrolled while trying to shield the vulnerable—an idea the Director-General of the World Health Organization recently called “morally unconscionable and unfeasible.”
“He insists he’s not somebody who’s pushing for herd immunity,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He says, ‘That’s not what I mean.’ [But] everything he says—when you put them together and stitch them together—everything is geared toward the concept of ‘It doesn’t make any difference if people get infected. It’s a waste of time. Masks don’t work. Who cares,’ and the only thing you need to do is protect the vulnerable, like people in the nursing homes,” Fauci said.
“The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” Fauci went on. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’—to me, as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
On Saturday, the same day Fauci’s interview ran in the Post, Atlas sat for an interview in which he continued to defend the administration’s handling and his stance on masks and disease spread. Notably, the interview was with Russia’s state-backed RT network, which is registered as foreign agent, meaning it is producing propaganda “attempting to influence US public opinion, policy, and laws.”
On Sunday, Atlas apologized for sitting for the interview, saying in a tweet that he was “unaware they are a registered foreign agent.”
“I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of,” he said. “I especially apologize to the national security community who is working hard to defend us.”
On Monday, Trump continued to downplay the pandemic on the campaign trail. He recently tweeted, “We have more Cases because we have more Testing!” This is also false; increases in testing are not sufficient to explain the spike in cases, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
So far, more than 9.2 million people in the United States have been infected with the pandemic virus, and over 231,000 have died. The seven-day average of new daily cases is at a record high of over 80,000. More than 47,000 people in the US are currently hospitalized, and the seven-day average of deaths per day is over 800.