United States President Donald Trump’s startling Covid-19 diagnosis serves as a cruel reminder of the pervasive spread of the coronavirus and how tenuous of a grip the country has on the crisis, health experts say.
With United States infections rising for several weeks, Trump was one of about 40,000 Americans who learned they had tested positive when he broke the news on Friday.
The president went through a “very concerning” period and the next 48 hours “will be critical” for his care, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said today.
It was dramatically different than the rosy assessment from Trump’s staff and doctors, who took pains not to reveal the president had received supplemental oxygen at the White House before he went to a military hospital.
Some of Trump’s top advisers and allies also have tested positive recently.
“No one is entirely out of the virus’s reach, even those supposedly inside a protective bubble,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Eight months after the virus first reached the United States, worrying signals mounted of what’s ahead this fall.
Some hospitals in Wisconsin have run low on space, and experts warned of a likely surge in infections during the colder months ahead. Economists are also saying it could take as long as until late 2023 for the job market to fully recover.
The US leads the world in numbers of confirmed infections, with more than 7 million, and deaths, with more than 208,000. Only a handful of countries rank higher in Covid-19 deaths per capita.
“The statistics are so mindboggling, they make us numb to the reality of just how painful, unacceptable and absurd this is,” said Dr Reed Tuckson, board chairman of the Health Policy Alliance in Washington.
“Every single American must double down on their vigilance. If we don’t, then we are being foolhardy and irresponsible.”
The president’s infection occurred as the nation has reached a crossroads in its response to the virus.
The US is averaging 40,000 cases a day. The situation is improving in Sun Belt states that were hot spots in the summer — months after states reopened in May and gatherings during the holidays fueled a surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
Several people waving Trump signs and American flags at passing drivers in the St Louis suburb of St Charles today said Trump and Parson getting infected won’t change their behavior. Most of the roughly two dozen Trump supporters who gathered didn’t wear masks.
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said Trump’s diagnosis “reinforces the notion we need a national policy and we need everyone to participate in the basic preventions.”
Instead, Schaffner said, the response “has been subcontracted to the governors, which has left us with a crazy quilt of approaches.”
For months, Trump has downplayed the virus, rarely wearing a mask, holding large campaign rallies and urging businesses and schools to reopen. Masks have not been mandatory for White House staff, despite evidence they help to stop the spread.
“Now, tragically, this experiment has shown, at the highest office of the country, it ain’t working. It didn’t work,” Schaffner said.
Michaud said the nation is experiencing “a dangerous moment.”
“We have lots of schools, universities, workplaces and other businesses and institutions reopening. Colder weather is also on the way, which will likely increase the chances people will congregate together indoors,” Michaud said.
If complacency sets in, infections will rise.
“We’re still not doing sufficient testing and contact tracing across the country,” Michaud said. “For all these reasons, we’re likely to more transmission in the US, not less, in the coming weeks and months.”