This week, the United States is expected to record 200,000 total coronavirus deaths—a number larger than the populations of 670 major American cities.* This sad milestone comes days after tapes surfaced of President Donald Trump admitting to a journalist that he worked to conceal the true threat of COVID-19. In the tapes, recorded in February 2020, Trump revealed that he knew the coronavirus was much deadlier than a common flu and highly contagious. However, Trump concealed the truth, encouraging the country to engage in behavior that dramatically increased the spread of the virus and, ultimately, the national death toll.
Despite this knowledge, in the late winter and early spring, Trump frequently claimed the common flu was more lethal; held six indoor rallies and attended the Daytona 500; mocked lawmakers pleading for a national plan; and hosted a function for the Brazilian delegation at Mar-a-Lago, where several attendees contracted COVID-19. Trump delayed issuing critical social distancing guidelines in March then let them expire prematurely at the end of April while pushing to get rid of them even sooner in time for the Easter holiday. He pushed states still locked down to reopen, disparaged mask wearing, and started holding indoor rallies against the urgence of public health officials in June.
Trump’s chaotic and mismanaged response has resulted in tens of thousands of preventable deaths. According to a Columbia University study, if the president had called for social distancing measures just one week earlier than when he did, 36,000 deaths would have been prevented. And, if Trump had acted two weeks earlier, 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of cases could have been prevented. Instead, he contradicted and ignored guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; allowed massive shortages of personal protective equipment to occur under his watch; and pressured state and local leaders to reopen, spurring a second spike in states across the country.
When his actions are called into question, Trump points to his so-called travel bans and claims they saved millions of lives—a claim with no “scientific basis” to back it up. The China travel ban—which was less of a ban and more of a set of restrictions with many loopholes—allowed nearly 40,000 people into the United States from China during the two months after the policy was put in place. Trump claims he was early to act, but 38 countries put in place similar or stricter policies on or before Trump’s restrictions were implemented. An estimated 430,000 people traveled from China since the first U.S. case was confirmed. Forty days passed after the China travel policy went into effect before he put in place travel restrictions for Europe on March 11. By that point, the virus was already festering in New York, where the country’s largest outbreak occurred.
Even as we approach this tragic 200,000 deaths marker, Trump declines to take any responsibility for this failure; fails to seriously acknowledge the significant loss of lives; refuses to present a serious national response; rebuffs any engagement with Congress on further substantive responses; and continues to demand every state and school fully reopen without providing funding or planning to do so safely. States that followed his political demands, such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia, then became the new epicenters with the highest case levels that the country had seen to date.
Trump’s negligence has led to roughly the equivalent of each of these city’s populations dying off—or more. We should mark their passing, and recognize the gravity of this milestone, even when our president does not.
Unfortunately, little recovery is in sight according to former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Tom Bossert, who recently tweeted, “At this point, there’s virtually no chance we don’t hit a half million dead Americans from #coronavirus.” It didn’t have to be this way. In fact, just across our northern border, Canada reported zero deaths in a day last Friday for the first time since March while the U.S. daily average continues to be roughly 1,000 fatalities. President Trump is attempting to put the pandemic behind him for political purposes. It is past time for the White House to be honest with the American people, squash the virus like others have, and work toward a safe recovery.
Will Ragland is the research director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
*Authors’ note: Populations of 50,000 or more.