About four weeks have passed since students left campus and our academic and social lives were reduced to Zoom calls and text messages. But as we drop everything and alter our lives to stay safe in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House is failing again and again to take steps that would keep us and our families safe.
For me, this is personal. New York state, where I live, is a jarring example of the consequences of the Trump administration’s failure and a harbinger for the danger the rest of the country could face. I have close relatives who work in New York hospitals treating coronavirus patients, and they bring home horror stories of the lacking masks, scarce ventilators and chaos of the pandemic. I fear for their safety.
But Trump’s failure to respond to the crisis is a blow to everyone in the country, and it’s eventually going to impact all of us. Other states will get hit just as hard as New York, and more students and their families will be in greater danger of getting sick. Students and their families need to pay greater attention to the dangers of Trump’s actions, and lack thereof, to mitigate the harm of the pandemic.
From March 1 – when the first case in New York was confirmed – to now, the number of people diagnosed has exploded to at least 100,000, with nearly 6,000 dead, giving New York the most coronavirus cases in the country. New York, home to my family and nearly 2,000 other GW students, has been described as the “canary in the coal mine” for other states. That description could soon become the reality for every other part of the country – including the District.
There are many reasons, like high population density and volume of international travel, that New York was hit so hard by the pandemic before other states. But the most significant and alarming reason is the missteps by the federal government to take the crisis seriously. Department of Health and Human Services and National Security Council officials tried to bring the impending crisis to President Donald Trump’s attention as early as January, but he refused to take the information seriously. That set the stage for the failures to follow in the next few months that would let New York and the nation down.
One of the first and most crucial failures was the inability to provide enough coronavirus tests. Miscommunication between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration meant the development, mass production and distribution of effective tests was botched. Even as New York finally hits the peak number of cases, public health officials warn that inadequate testing may be hiding the full extent of the crisis.
The federal government also squandered more than two months of time that could have been spent increasing the amount of medical equipment. Public health officials, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, called for production to be ramped up weeks before Trump took action. Ventilators would be needed to treat the sickest COVID-19 patients, and protective gear for medical professionals, including gloves, gowns and N-95 protective masks, would be needed to protect medical professionals who are treating patients. None of that happened in time. And now we are suffering.
New York, unable to wait nearly two months for equipment they had needed long before now, was forced to borrow ventilators from California and Oregon. Those on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic are left vulnerable to getting sick and do not have enough equipment to prevent patients from dying.
Trump cannot lead by example. At one of the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s daily briefings, he was quick to defang the CDC’s recommendation that every person in the country should wear a protective mask outside of the home at all times. From behind the podium of the White House press briefing room, he has called the pandemic a “hoax,” refused to take responsibility for his administration’s response and mulled the prospect of easing social distancing protocols by Easter.
It might be difficult to pay attention to the president, but we need to listen so we can navigate what is right or wrong, misleading or accurate. Soon, nearly every state will feel the full gravity of the pandemic, and we should be aware of the danger we are in. We must listen to public health officials like Dr. Fauci and follow protocols described by medical leaders.
It is too late to undo the mistakes that left New York with less protective equipment and fewer ventilators than it needed. It may even be too late to prevent the same carnage from taking place all over the country. But it is not too late to listen to the people who know what they are talking about. While Trump wrecks the country, we must follow the most accurate information. Lives depend on it.
Andrew Sugrue, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a columnist.
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