Reckless and feckless: 50,000 U.S. victims of COVID-19 would be alive today but for the actions of these 4 men

A side by side photo of President Trump on the left and the Times Square Trump death clock on the right

Flickr / Facebook

If the United States had shut down by March 2, up to 90 percent of the Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19 would still be with us today.

This estimate is the result of analysis by the Imperial College of London and the London School of Tropical Medicine. It means more than 50,000 Americans are dead today who did not have to be. A similar number can be found in the “Trump Death Clock” in Times Square.

The U.S. didn’t contain the coronavirus when it reached our shores the countries like South Korea and Germany did. The mistakes that were made can be traced back to four men.

Meet the four men responsible for America’s biggest tragedy of the century.

Dr. Robert Redfield - Director of the Centers for Disease Control

Dr Redfield holding a red bandana while President Trump looks on

AP Photo / Alex Brandon

Most of the American public would have first seen this now-familiar face, the head of the CDC, at a White House briefing on February 29. A reporter asked the President: “How should Americans prepare for this virus?” Trump fielded the question to the man on his right: “Bob? Do you want to answer that?”

The following sentence was a harbinger of death to tens of thousands of Americans.

The risk at this time is low. The American public needs to go on with their normal lives.”

How wonderfully reassuring and tragically incorrect. Today, over 80,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness spread by the novel coronavirus. Redfield knew of the risk of the virus. Five days earlier, the CDC was going to present a plan involving the closure of schools and businesses to the President. Trump put the economy before saving lives, and they sided with him.

During a Rose Garden briefing on Monday, the President claimed: “America leads the world in testing”. Not only is this untrue, but the key message is, America tested too late.

Time means lives

Instead of outsourcing testing to the private sector or buying tests from overseas, the CDC insisted on creating their own. This cost time and subsequently lives. When the test was finally released to labs across the nation, the unthinkable happened. They were flawed.

While the CDC was sending out its defective tests, the WHO was suppling a quarter of a million test kits to laboratories around the world.

Robert Redfield has a patchy scientific past. A right-wing Christian zealot, Redfield worked as an HIV researcher in the Army. He publicly shamed HIV-positive soldiers by segregating them in separate barracks. These soldiers were later dishonorably discharged and left to suffer without health insurance. Redfield left the Army after he touted trial HIV therapy that proved useless due to his “sloppy or, possibly, deceptive” research.

Under Redfield, the CDC announced 75 cases of coronavirus on 1 March. Recent models show there were likely 28,000 infected people at the time.

On March 6 Redfield said:

“It’s not as if we have multiple, multiple — hundreds and hundreds of clusters” across the country.”

He urged Americans to keep their travel plans, even “visit Disneyland”.

Less than a week later, Disneyland was closed and Trump had declared a national state of emergency.

Alex Azar: Health and Human Services Secretary

Alex Azar sitting at a desk signing papers


Azar rose to fame through the pharmaceutical industry, where he doubled the price of insulin. Other dubious connections on his resume include working with Brett Kavanaugh, and under Antonin Scalia.

Azar tries to cut funding during the pandemic

When America needed all its resources devoted to preparing for a pandemic, Azar was trying to cut funding to the CDC. He wanted to cut $85 million from the CDC Emergency and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases Program and $25 million from the Public Health Preparedness and Response.

One legacy of the Obama administration was a proposal for a machine to build 1.5 million N95 respirators a day. Azar chose not to go ahead with the purchase.

Azar did, however, contact Trump (golfing at the Mar-a-Lago resort) to warn him of the severity of the pandemic. It was another 10 days before the Coronavirus Task Force was created, led by Azar and Vice President Mike Pence. A further two days passed before Azar declared a public health emergency.

This in itself only further confounded the situation, creating a bureaucratic nightmare whereby labs had to wait for FDA authorization before they could develop their own tests.

Stephen Hahn – FDA Commissioner

Portrait of Stephen Hahn – FDA Commissioner


Hahn began his position at the Food and Drug Administration only a month before the outbreak started — his predecessor warned of a pandemic.

On January 28, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb reported in the Wall Street Journal “the CDC will struggle” to meet the demand for screening. He recommended that the Government begin “working with private industry to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests.” The article was titled “Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic”.

Hahn ignored this advice.

The FDA could have overridden the regulation put in place by Azar, that labs must come to them first. Instead, the private sector had to apply for “emergency-use authorization” from the FDA to develop tests, which lost precious time.

South Korea had its first COVID-19 case around the same time as the United States. They chose to involve the private sector. By May 6, South Korea reported just 250 deaths by COVID-19.

This could have been the United States

Instead, the three men were too busy pointing fingers and feuding over the flawed CDC tests:

  •  Azar insisted the original kit be repaired and turned down the WHO test.
  • The CDC under Redfield worked slower on a second batch.
  • Hahn insisted that the FDA focus on regulating the CDC to find the initial flaw.

The FDA accused the CDC of misinformation. The CDC retorted that the FDA had slowed them down with unnecessary regulation. The opportunity to contain the virus the same way South Korea did came and went.

In such a crisis, clear leadership is required.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump sitting at a desk signing legislation

Flickr / The White House

The 45th President of the United States had more power to change the course of the pandemic than any other individual. Instead, he spent most of the critical early days when the virus could have been contained, on the golf course.

Trump chose money over lives

The President has bet his reelection campaign on the promise of a strong economy. On February 25, Dr. Messonnier, the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases spoke at a COVID-19 press briefing.

She warned that the debate over a wide outbreak of the virus was no longer a question of “if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when.” Her comments caused the stock market to crash and the President lashed out and threatened to fire her.

Trump chose to downplay the deadly disease, calling it “a flu” and predicting it “goes away in April with the heat”.

The first sign that the President was more concerned about the economy became clear on March 7 when he refused to let infected patients disembark from the Grand Princess cruise ship waiting off the coast of San Francisco. “I like the numbers being where they are” explained the President.

Trump has the authority to bolster the national stockpile of medical supplies, order the manufacturing of ventilators, and recommend states join a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus. He is not leveraging the power of the Defense Production Act he invoked. He waited months before placing bulk orders for personal protective equipment for health workers.

Where states looked for guidance he left them to battle over supplies in bidding wars.

Some states were forced to order in their own personal protective gear for their health workers. The Governor of Massachusetts flew in masks from China. Maryland’s Governor bought half a million tests from South Korea and hid them under National Guard protection. Even Trump’s wingman Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado had his order of 500,000 ventilators seized by the federal government and only got 100,000 back.

Trump fails again and again

When the nation needed a lockdown, the President encouraged states to reopen. As unmasked protesters gathered in large numbers to protest the stay-at-home orders, Trump cheered them on.

During the Coronavirus Task Force briefings to address the nation, Trump congratulated himself and boasted he was “number one on Facebook” (he is not).

When infectious diseases experts warned not to expect a vaccine too quickly, the President of the United States suggested that injecting bleach could be a solution.

Month after month of missed opportunities, insufficient testing, and lack of a unified response across the states have taken their toll.

Now, the “invisible enemy” has even snuck into the White House. As ever closer members of Trump’s circle test positive for COVID-19, the President needs to take responsibility now.

It is already too late for well over 50,000 Americans.

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