As of noon Wednesday, March 18, 30 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 12 others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
For three weeks, my wife and I have been battling respiratory symptoms consistent in every detail with COVID-19. But with an acute shortage of test kits and no history of travel, we do not qualify for testing. There are probably many more like us.
As of last week when the state’s first positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed, Maine had conducted fewer than 100 tests in a population of nearly 1.4 million. This number is epidemiologically meaningless. As of Wednesday, Maine has tested roughly 1,700 people, still only 0.12 percent of the population.
The failure to conduct early and aggressive testing represents a lost opportunity of such enormous magnitude we are only just beginning to grasp the consequences. It means we have failed to generate sufficient data to map the virus and implement containment measures. COVID-19 is outrunning the data. Our only option is to slow the rate at which it spreads.
We often hear this country has the brightest minds and most advanced health care system in the world. We’ve been aware of the threat of global pandemic for many decades and learned from outbreaks like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola. So why has our response to COVID-19 been trippingly slow, leaving us months behind other countries?
Many factors likely contribute. But rapid response to a health crisis of this magnitude relies on a chain of events coordinating federal, state, and municipal governments with scientists and health care professionals across the nation. If that chain is failing, the weak link is not a lack of talent or resources, it is the absence of strong leadership.
Our president has defunded key research institutions and left relevant posts either vacant or staffed with loyalists of dubious qualification. His administration gutted the White House pandemic response team. On many levels in and out of government there is a sense of things fraying where they most need to hold weight. More alarming still is the president’s failure to level with the American people, conspicuously more concerned about his own image than communicating honestly during the most serious national crisis in anyone’s memory.
He went on to tout the “speed and professionalism” of a response astonishingly slow and unsteady, leaving us months behind other countries and irretrievably blinded to the footprints of the virus.
When the Grand Princess docked in Oakland, California, he was against bringing off the sick, saying, “I like the numbers where they are,” as though he were speaking of the stock market. In one press conference after another he has contradicted the Centers for Disease Control, compelling our country’s leading health expert, Anthony Fauci, to go behind him with a mop and reeducate an increasingly confused and fearful public, even as he urged us not to underestimate the gravity of a crisis the president himself does not seem to comprehend.
Such willful negligence in the highest office trickles down. A top adviser to the president, Larry Kudlow, announced, “We have contained this…pretty close to air-tight.” California representative Devin Nunez assured us, “It’s a great time to … go to a local restaurant.”
As Joe Biden put it, COVID-19 “has laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration.” But let’s be clear: Donald Trump is the administration. There is no overarching explanation for the dangerous fumbling of a crisis we are otherwise perfectly equipped to handle other than Trump’s failure to lead.
The journalist David Brooks recently described him as a sociopath, not just short on sympathy but incapable of it. The president’s divisive, mendacious, self-glorifying showmanship has seeped into the fabric of this nation, leaving behind a stain of doubt and confusion we shall be hard pressed to remove.
Only one thing is certain: When we finally emerge from this outbreak, it will have been due to the strength, ingenuity, and resilience of the American people, in spite of this president.
Scott Moncrieff of Pownal is a veterinarian.