While publicly downplaying the coronavirus crisis has been a mainstay of the last nine months of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Washington Post reveals just how little attention he’s been paying to the pandemic inside the White House. Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in “at leave five months,” is not regularly briefed on the topic by his team of doctors, and “rarely reads” the daily virus memos put together by Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, according to the Post. The president has not only ducked out of active involvement in his administration’s response but has, for several weeks, tuned out calls for increased testing, mask mandates, and consistent public messaging to slow the spread ahead of what Birx called “the most concerning and deadly phase of this pandemic” in a leaked memo earlier this month.
Trump’s reported five-month absence from the task force meetings was confirmed by one of its members on Sunday, Admiral Brett Giroir, who told ABC’s This Week that he was “not concerned that the president doesn’t attend” because Vice President Mike Pence fills him in “every day or nearly every day on coronavirus.” The president has ignored alarms sounded both in public and behind the scenes by Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, about hospitals at capacity and the need for more aggressive government action. “You would think that now that his presidential campaign is over that he could perhaps leave a legacy of last-minute leadership during this time—an ounce of it, maybe,” Olivia Troye, a former Pence adviser and coronavirus task force aide who recently resigned from the administration, told the Post.
Trump’s focus is elsewhere, on the election he continues to pretend he won and on settling scores, reflected in his recent purge of top Pentagon officials. Health experts are no longer consulted before the White House plans events, according to the Post, including the Trump campaign's indoor election night party—several attendees of which later tested positive for the coronavirus. But if the president’s increasing negligence is a sign that he gleans no personal political gain from confronting the pandemic during his remaining time in office—whether or not he will admit that his West Wing days are, in fact, numbered—America still stands to lose. The country is the world leader in coronavirus fatalities, NPR notes, and deaths are rising, as are hospitalizations and cases. More than 184,000 infections were reported on Friday, the fourth consecutive day that the U.S. set a record for daily cases. The number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Friday, more than 68,000, was the highest that the country has seen throughout the entire pandemic.
“President Trump is refusing to acknowledge two realities: his defeat and COVID-19,” Chuck Todd said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Both forms of denial appear to be merging with potentially devastating consequences. The administration’s refusal to acknowledge the election results, with top officials reportedly using phrases such as “if there’s a transition” and “if there’s a second term” in internal emails, has prevented a formal transition from beginning, delaying President-elect Joe Biden’s access to information for the virus response. “If you’re going to confront the pandemic—and this campaign will extend beyond [Inauguration Day]—absolutely they ought to be preparing the Biden team, briefing them about the landscape of programs, any bottlenecks that they’ve encountered, so that the Biden team can develop their strategy,” said Jack Chow, a U.S. health official under George W. Bush and a former World Health Organization assistant director general. On CNN Sunday, Fauci—who noted it has been “several months" since Trump met with the task force—suggested “it would be better” if the current administration began working with Biden’s transition team.
Administration officials across various government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are reportedly trying to quietly pick up the slack “and take notes on shortcomings” for the incoming administration to address, according to the Post. That may include assessing where personal protective equipment shortages are and directing supplies in that direction; dramatically expanding testing; and transmitting information and resources to the incoming administration about distributing the anticipated vaccine. “Right now, you have two parallel universes with an iron wall in between, and if that persists for much longer, the Biden strategy will be potentially slower and weaker than what is needed to take on the third wave,” Chow added.
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