by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
President Donald Trump broke the law Wednesday, landing at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport and greeting people without wearing a mask. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told MSNBC, “Donald Trump is actually violating the law, as he stands on our tarmac without a mask.” The Mayor, her husband and one of their children are at home, diagnosed with COVID-19. Trump’s dismissal of masks defines his misrule, driving the public health catastrophe raging across the United States.
Trump’s pandemic response has been cynical and deadly. While predicting that the pandemic will just “go away,” he has failed to set an example by simply wearing a mask. He and his partisan disciples, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor Greg Abbot and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, all proudly reject common sense steps that would save lives. Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp nullified local mask mandates by executive order late Wednesday. Thanks to Trump, America is now unquestionably number one in the world — number one, that is, in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, with no end in sight.
Trump publicly donned a mask last weekend at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, with a phalanx of masked military officers. It was an appropriate venue for Trump’s only public mask wearing to date. Major Walter Reed was an Army surgeon credited with proving, in 1900, that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever, a deadly epidemic disease that had plagued humanity for at least two hundred years. Reed’s scientific evidence led to simple preventive measures, like the use of mosquito netting, that effectively contained yellow fever.
More than a century later, the federal response to COVID-19 is being driven not by science but by Trump. The prognosis is not good.
“I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health,” Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Tuesday. Redfield co-authored an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association calling for universal masking. “The public needs consistent, clear, and appealing messaging that normalizes community masking,” they write. “Broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice.”
Trump has been providing consistent messaging, only it has been entirely wrong. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, at his first campaign rally since the pandemic began, Trump refused to wear a mask, like most at the event. Campaign staffers and Secret Service agents tested positive soon after. Several weeks later, Oklahoma reported a record spike in COVID-19 cases, now including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the first U.S. governor to test positive. He, too, was maskless at the rally. So was former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, an African American cancer survivor in his 70s. He contracted COVID-19 and has been hospitalized for weeks. The Color of Coronavirus data project reports that the COVID-19 mortality rate for African Americans is about 2.3 times as high as the rate for Whites.
A University of Washington model predicts that near-universal mask wearing could save up to 28,000 lives in the U.S. before October 1st. Hand hygiene, social distancing, and extensive testing, tracing and isolation of COVID-positive individuals would save more lives. We are more than five months into the pandemic. It is hard to believe shortages of tests and personal protective equipment still persist.
Dr. Ali Khan is an epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska, formerly, at the CDC, in charge of the strategic national stockpile of emergency medical supplies. “I believe all of government has blood on their hands — 136,000 deaths, preventable deaths, a tragedy,” he said on the Democracy Now! news hour.
“In countries that were successful, each and every politician, regardless of their party, followed the science,” he continued. “Everybody said, ‘Wear masks.’ No controversy. Everybody wore a mask. They got their disease under control. We need to see that again right now at every political level — local, state, national. We need everybody to be wearing a mask.”
Trump pulled the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, after North Carolina’s Democratic governor refused permission to hold a massive indoor rally without attendees wearing masks or social distancing. The late August convention is now slated for Jacksonville, Florida, where COVID-19 cases are surging. “There’s consideration being given to having the convention in an outdoor setting,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters. Jacksonville’s Mayor is now in self-quarantine, and an increasing number of prominent Republican Senators are skipping the RNC.
Donald Trump said he wore a mask at Walter Reed because it was a hospital. He should view the entire country as a hospital, follow the science and impose a national mask mandate. Thousands of Americans could be saved from needless suffering and death.