“Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.”
That was the warning presented to our nation’s top lawmakers this week from Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services. Bright testified before Congress Wednesday and was expected, as of this newspaper’s print deadline, to tell lawmakers President Donald Trump had removed him from his position in April after he questioned Trump’s urging of hydroxychloroquine, an unproven, untested (and we now ineffective and dangerous) drug, to treat COVID-19 patients. Bright alleged earlier this month that Trump fired him after he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency.”
Choosing politics over science seems to be par for the course for the Trump administration during a public health crisis that has, as of Wednesday, May 13, killed 15,734 more Americans (over a 12-week period) than those killed in the Vietnam War, 9/11 attacks and post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In fact, other governments seem to have figured out ways to protect their citizens — and their economies — during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, for example, rushed to action during the pandemic’s early days, imposing a strict lockdown, shutting down travel into the country, imposing quarantines on people who had come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 and implementing testing and contact tracing early on.
The result? New Zealand has seemingly eradicated community outbreaks of the coronavirus and life there is going back to normal.
Of course, New Zealand started with advantages that we didn’t have: geographical isolation, far fewer early cases and a leader who was willing to risk upsetting commercial interests for the sake of her people’s lives. We deserve to have leadership like Ardern’s in this country. The majority of Americans have been more than willing to disrupt their own lives for the good of their families, health care workers and most vulnerable neighbors.
Meanwhile, our nation’s leaders refuse to wear masks — a simple and effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 — even as those closest to them continue to test positive for the coronavirus, and continue to put everyone from patients at the Mayo Clinic to workers inside a mask-making facility.
Instead of sticking to his own administration’s guidelines for reopening the country, Trump has backed and even egged on the armed “lockdown protestors” who have gathered outside their state capitals and then — as we know happened last month in Michigan — brought the deadly virus back to their mostly rural communities.
Our nation’s leaders are crying out for early reopenings, despite data that has shown prematurely reopening states risks not just another full onslaught of COVID-19 deaths but also a more unstable economy. Rarely do we even talk about what reopening means for vulnerable workers who will be forced to choose between returning to a potentially unsafe work environment or losing the unemployment benefits meant to help all of us be able to hunker down during this crisis.
Americans who have already sacrificed so much — watching loved ones die alone; forgoing funerals, weddings, birthday celebrations, senior proms, graduations; exposing themselves to a deadly virus to take care of people in nursing homes, hospitals and clinics; depending on government safety nets that have proven to have gaping holes in them; and wondering if the business they closed to help protect the entire community will be able to reopen ever again — deserve national leaders who can take charge of this crisis, come up with a clear plan based solely on saving as many lives as possible and preventing more outbreaks, shut down armed protests at state capitals and take responsibility when things they’ve promised during this crisis (such as the abundance of drive-through testing sites and “beautiful” tests for everyone that Trump promised in March) fail to materialize.
We are lucky to have some peace of mind in Washington and Oregon, where our state leaders are moving slowly and hopefully avoiding another devastating wave of COVID-19. But other Americans, especially those living in states like Georgia — where GOP governors are reopening despite rising coronavirus cases and no clear plans for testing or contact tracing — could use some national solidarity along the lines of New Zealand right now.
Want to help? Write to your senators and representatives showing support for a national lockdown and look for national efforts like this petition (change.org/p/donald-j-trump-lock-down-the-united-states-for-five-weeks-to-end-covid-19) to show that Americans across the country support a data-drive, scientifically sound national reopening and demand more effective national leadership during this unprecendented crisis.