“When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
President Trump made this bold claim on Feb. 26 about the public health crisis beginning to manifest in the United States. Just over a month later, confirmed coronavirus cases have exponentially grown to more than 216,000 nationwide with more than 5,000 deaths — including 376 cases and seven deaths here in Maine, as of Wednesday.
Trump is directly responsible for this health and economic crisis spiraling out of control. Instead of taking advice from experts, he failed to take appropriate steps to slow the virus in the early stages of the outbreak. He wasted precious time making false statements that confused the public. And, as the virus continues to spread, Trump’s chaotic leadership and lack of preparation has made America less safe.
As the oldest state in the nation, nearly half of Mainers are considered “high-risk” for developing serious illness from the coronavirus that would require hospitalization and the use of ventilators for breathing. But ventilator shortages are reaching crisis levels nationwide.
Yet despite the severe shortage, Trump refused to invoke the Defense Production Act for weeks, a measure that would accelerate the manufacture of critical medical supplies like ventilators and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. And while he’s finally invoked the measure to compel a single company to produce additional ventilators, his inaction early on allowed the crisis to grow more dangerous and deadly than it otherwise would have.
While Trump ignored classified briefings from his own intelligence officials in January warning him about the outbreak, other countries that took the coronavirus seriously are seeing results from their preparedness. South Korea, for example, was able to test 287,000 people in the eight weeks following its first confirmed case. Despite Trump claiming that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” the United States only tested 55,000 in that same time frame. In Maine, a shortage of testing supplies resulting from a nationwide shortage has led to confusion among Mainers who want to get tested but can’t.
Trump also ignored early warnings about the coming shortage of protective gloves and masks for health care workers. In fact, a pandemic playbook prepared by the White House National Security Council in 2016 warned that the federal government should have been stockpiling these medical supplies at least two months ago. Maine received only 5 percent of the specialized protective masks it requested from the federal government, forcing state officials to undertake their own search nationwide and overseas for protective gear. Refusing to take responsibility for his lack of preparation, Trump is blaming shortages on governors, saying the federal government isn’t responsible for helping states obtain medical supplies or tests.
Trump failed to prepare in the early stages of the outbreak, and he still hasn’t learned from his mistakes. Rather than use the full powers of his presidency to help overloaded hospitals, he’s continuing to downplay the threat with false and misleading statements.
As Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a recent briefing, “The virus sets its own timetable.” Despite Trump’s claims that this crisis would “miraculously go away” by April, the coronavirus is still with us, the number of Mainers testing positive continues to rise, and more Mainers are being hospitalized.
President Trump’s failed leadership and mismanagement of this public health crisis has been nothing short of dangerous. More Americans are sick and dying, our hospitals don’t have what they need, and Maine families are suffering economically. We deserve a trusted leader, one who is guided by experts and prioritizes the safety and economic security of Americans. And right now, we aren’t getting that from the White House.
Kathleen Marra is chair of the Maine Democratic Party.