Paper says it has ‘story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter’

Vice President Pence speaks for the task force March 9. (Photo by Jabin Botsford, Washington Post)

A month ago, as doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force watched new cases rising and feared the Thanksgiving holidays would make things worse, and “their warnings had gone largely unheeded for months,” they “decided to stage an intervention,” The Washington Post reports.

The four “sounded new alarms, cautioning of a dark winter to come without dramatic action to slow community spread. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, among the many Trump aides who were infected with the virus this fall, was taken aback, according to three senior administration officials with knowledge of the discussions. He told the doctors he did not believe their troubling data assessment.”

Meadows also accused the four — the task force response coordinator, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist and the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration — “of outlining problems without prescribing solutions,” the Post reports. “The doctors explained that the solutions were simple and had long been clear: among them, to leverage the power of the presidential bully pulpit to persuade all Americans to wear masks, especially the legions of Trump supporters refusing to do so, and to dramatically expand testing.”
Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci with Trump on
March 20. (Photo by Jabin Botsford, Washington Post)

Fauci, who runs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Post, “It was something that we were almost repetitively saying whenever we would get into the Situation Room” at the White House. “Whenever we got the opportunity to say, ‘This is really going to be a problem because the baseline of infections was really quite high to begin with, so you had a lot of community spread.’ ”

On Nov. 19, after the CDC advised against Thanksgiving travel, Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the task force, “agreed to hold a full news conference with some of the doctors — something they had not done since the summer. But much to the doctors’ dismay, Pence did not forcefully implore people to wear masks, nor did the administration take meaningful action on testing. As for the president, he did not appear at all,” the Post reports. “Trump went days without mentioning the pandemic other than to celebrate progress on vaccines.”
The arrival of the first vaccine marked “the first glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that for 10 months has ravaged the country, decimated its economy and fundamentally altered social interactions,” write Post reporters Yasmeen AbutalebAshley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Philip Rucker. “Yet that triumph of scientific ingenuity and bureaucratic efficiency does not conceal the difficult truth, that the virus has caused proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations — a result, experts say, of a dysfunctional federal response led by a president perpetually in denial.”

Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump FDA commissioner in the Trump administration, told the Post, “We could have done better galvanizing collective action, getting more adherence to masks. The idea that we had this national debate on the question of whether masks infringed on your liberty was deeply unfortunate. It put us in a bad position.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Photo by Ricky Carioti, W. Post)

Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland and “one of the few Republican officials who have criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, said many in the administration are working hard to control the alarming November-to-December surge, but not the man at the top,” the Post reports. He told the newspaper, “My concern was, in the worst part of the battle, the general was missing in action.”

On the other hand, “Trump’s defenders say the president and his administration deserve credit not only for Operation Warp Speed — the public-private initiative to develop, test and now distribute vaccines — but also for their work early on to address a shortage of ventilators, ease supply-chain delays for personal protective equipment and set guidelines for businesses and other gathering places to reopen after the March and April shutdowns,” the Post reports. “They also point to Trump’s decision in late January to restrict travel from China, where the virus originated. And they say they’re not sure what Trump should have done differently.”
Former CDC director Tom Frieden answered that question this way: “Words matter a lot, and what we have here is a failure to communicate — and worse than that, the effective communication of policies, of myths, of confusion about masks, about hydroxychloroquine, about vaccines, about closures, about testing. It’s stunning.”
Before 7,000 more words about the last 10 months, The Post sums it up: “Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.” The story is headlined, “The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter.”
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