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President Donald Trump has acknowledged that he has long downplayed the dangers of coronavirus — to avoid panicking Americans, he said.
Still, his recent comments at a rally were still shocking: “It affects virtually nobody,” he said of the virus in Ohio on Monday. “It’s an amazing thing.”
The families of the more than 200,000 Americans who have perished because of the virus likely beg to differ. Their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, children, siblings were not nobodies. The United States has the highest number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the world.
Those who are struggling to recover from the illness, which is linked to heart inflammation, lung and brain, and other organ damage, beg to differ. They may be affected by the virus and its damage for the rest of their lives. There are not nobodies.
Trump has refused to accept any responsibility for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. In the early months, there was little coordinated federal response. Hospitals scrambled to get enough protective equipment for their staffs, sometimes competing against states and the federal government. Coronavirus tests were in short supply.
Rather than taking federal action to increase production of needed supplies and to coordinate restrictions and an appropriate health care response, Trump left decisions up to governors. He then criticized those, like Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who took tough steps — such as requiring some businesses to close and requiring physical distancing and masks in many instances — to control the virus. Maine has the second lowest COVID test positivity rate in the country, behind Vermont. And, despite growing outbreaks in York County, Maine is one of three states that is trending in the right direction, according to Covid Exit Strategy, a group of public health and crisis experts.
Trump has repeatedly said that coronavirus was under control and would go away. It hasn’t.
Trump’s comments that COVID-19 only affects older Americans are also wrong, offensive and dangerous.
“It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. That’s what it really affects,” the president said during the Ohio rally. “In some states, thousands of people — nobody young. Below the age of 18, like, nobody. They have a strong immune system, who knows? Take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.”
Young people, while rarely killed by coronavirus, are not immune from its dangers. Tristen Hoge, a football player at Brigham Young University, was diagnosed with COVID-19 a few weeks ago. He had minor symptoms and was quarantined. But, the day he returned to practice, he felt ill. He had developed pneumonia, which has “affected his lungs severely,” his father, Marty said.
In a Twitter post, Marty Hoge acknowledged that he was skeptical about coronavirus. “You got to take it serious,” he said in the post.
It is true that COVID-19 is most dangerous for elderly Americans. Well over half the U.S. COVID deaths are in people over the age of 75, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, nearly 400 Americans under the age of 25 have died from the virus. They aren’t nobodies.
It is offensive to suggest that coronavirus-related deaths among elderly Americans — or any Americans — don’t matter.
A responsible leader would take all reasonable steps to minimize deaths, at any age. A true leader would also express sympathy for those who have died and for those who have lost loved ones. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need responsible leadership that can make the tough decisions guided by facts and empathy.