New York – As coronavirus deaths in the United States pass 200,000, President Donald Trump remains locked in his war against scientists in his own administration.
In the past six months, the Trump administration has prioritized politics over science, refusing to take advice from experts that may have contained the spread of the coronavirus and the disease it causes. Trump and his people have consistently dismissed expert assessments of the severity of the pandemic and the measures needed to control it. They have tried to hush scientists who dispute the administration’s optimistic bias.
Just last week, Trump described Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as “confused” for saying that a vaccine was not likely to be available until today. summer or fall of 2021. Trump, without evidence, said it could be ready before the election.RELATED
While there is no indication that Trump’s desperation has affected the scientific process, his insistence that there will be a vaccine before the election is creating mistrust in the achievement that he hopes will aid his reelection.
Trump’s dynamic against science has been evident from the start.
In late January, after the virus emerged in Wuhan, China, the CDC launched its emergency operations center. What was needed, epidemiologists said, was an active campaign of public education and contact tracing to identify and isolate the first cases before uncontrolled spread occurs.
Instead, Trump publicly downplayed the severity of the virus in those crucial first weeks, while privately acknowledging the seriousness of the threat.
“I always wanted to downplay it,” Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in March.
By the middle of that month, hospitals in New York and elsewhere were overwhelmed with patients and storing bodies in refrigerated trucks.
On March 31, the country was still trying to understand the magnitude of the pandemic. Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House response to the coronavirus, explained, standing next to the president, the staggering projections of deaths. Doctors said that unless the country adopted masks, practiced social distancing and kept businesses closed, there would be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths.
They stressed that if the United States adopted strict measures, the balance could remain below 100,000.
“We would hope we could keep it under that,” Trump said at the time.
But instead of issuing a national mask-wearing mandate, the Trump administration within weeks published its plan to “Open America Again.”
The CDC began to produce a thick document of guidelines to help make decisions about reopening. But the White House thought the guidelines were too strict. “They are never going to come to light,” the CDC scientists were told. The Associated Press eventually released the 63-page document that offered science-based recommendations for workplaces, daycare centers and restaurants.
The predictable thing happened: Cases spiked as communities reopened, and hopes of keeping total deaths below 100,000 were dashed.
The CDC’s recommendations continued to be funneled through the White House task force for approval before being published.
Redfield has been criticized for not being forceful enough in advocating for the agency, and those who have worked at the CDC hope to see their leaders defend science in the face of political pressure.
“I’m sure it won’t be easy, but it is essential to the CDC’s reputation,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a 20-year veteran of the agency and a professor at the University of Florida. “We need a strong and reliable CDC to survive this pandemic – as well as the next public health emergency after this one.”
As Dr. Anthony Fauci was restricted in his interactions with the press – his honesty was frowned upon by the administration – Trump raised a new figure as the public face of his strength for the pandemic: Dr. Scott Atlas, a neurologist. from Stanford University with no experience in infectious diseases.
At Atlas, Trump has a doctor who has downplayed the need for students to wear masks or practice social distancing. Atlas has promoted the idea of allowing the virus to spread to create “herd immunity,” the idea that resistance can be created in the community by infecting a large portion of the population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that such an approach is dangerous.
White House officials say Atlas no longer endorses that idea.
As Fauci said in August, there is “a fundamental anti-science sentiment” at a time when some people are resisting the authorities.
At the same time, at least 60 state and local health leaders in 27 states have resigned or retired or been fired since April, according to a survey by AP Kaiser Health News. Those numbers have doubled since June, when the AP and KHN began tracking departures. Many resigned after political pressure from public officials, or even violent threats from people enraged at the mask mandates and closures.
The White House has realized that there is a downside to publicly undermining science. Officials acknowledge voters’ concerns about an acceleration of the vaccine schedule as an emerging public health crisis. They say they fear there will be unnecessary deaths and an economic impact if Americans fear being vaccinated, according to two White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The administration has ordered a campaign to strengthen public confidence in the vaccine development process. It would include raising the profiles of officials who have been criticized by Trump, such as the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, for its acronym in English), Dr. Stephen Hahn; and Dr. Redfield of the CDC.
One person disagrees – Trump. Less than six weeks before the election, he seems determined to say and do what he deems necessary to secure re-election, regardless of the science or the evidence.
And despite the dire death toll, Trump continues to present the last six months as a success.
On Monday he told a crowd of supporters in Ohio: “We are going to have a vaccine before the end of the year. But it could be before ”.