Tibbs: Trump, China and COVID-19

Columnist Ashley Tibbs breaks down how the Trump administration has failed to accommodate COVID-19. 

Ashley Tibbs

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has blamed China to distract from his own failures. 

We should absolutely question China’s transparency with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the world. We should condemn China’s government’s treatment of the late Dr. Li Wenliang, who was silenced for speaking openly about the emergence of the disease. Most people agree officials intentionally withheld critical information from the rest of the world and we should hold the state accountable. There’s no question about that.   

But let’s not pretend the massive failures of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 are the fault of China.

Once this virus landed in the United States, it became Trump and his administration’s responsibility to handle it. 

And they failed. 

The president spent the first critical weeks downplaying the severity of the virus and assuring the public the virus would go away in a series of statements that will follow him for the rest of his presidency. 

No, the pandemic itself is not Trump’s fault. The number of cases in the United States was always going to increase from the minute we learned of the first case simply because of the way viruses spread. 

The lack of caution and accountability during the pandemic is Trump’s fault, however. He and his administration were overwhelmingly unprepared for a massive community spread in the United States, despite the fact they were aware of the virus in January.

The WHO declared the virus a global health emergency Jan. 30. Between then and March 3, when the U.S. broke 100 cases, the Trump administration did nearly nothing to prepare other than falsely claiming the virus would go away and assuring the public there was nothing to worry about. 

Yes, he barred travel from China. But he didn’t do that until after the virus was already in the United States, and his travel ban had so many loopholes and problems it was not nearly enough to limit the entrance of COVID-19 into the U.S. The restrictions on travel from the EU had similar flaws. How can we forget the images of packed airports where crowds of Americans waited for hours before being allowed to return home?

From testing shortages to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has been inconsistent and completely inadequate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. on Jan. 21. The U.S. exceeded 10,000 cases on March 19. By March 26, we surpassed both China and Italy to become the most infected country in the world. That still hasn’t changed.

While Trump spent two months denying the problem posed by COVID-19, other leaders sounded the alarm. Sen. Rick Scott from Florida urged Trump to declare a public health emergency Jan. 24. On Jan. 27, former Vice President and current Democratic nominee Joe Biden wrote a piece for USA Today warning Americans about the possibility of a pandemic. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Feb. 29 and cautioned that the virus outbreak could soon become a pandemic. Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio was the first in the nation to declare a statewide school shutdown in early March. 

These leaders, and many others, took the threat seriously from the beginning.

The Trump administration did not. Because of this, the United States has not flattened the curve. We don’t have to worry about a “second wave” because we are still in our first. We have more cases than any other nation in the world. 

This isn’t China’s fault. Other countries, like New Zealand and South Korea, have succeeded in battling the virus, despite the fact China withheld information from them, too. 

The EU will be restricting travel from countries that have not contained the virus starting July 1. This includes the United States, alongside Brazil and Russia. 

The Trump administration failed. 

They failed to maintain an adequate stockpile of supplies and then moved too slowly to replace them. 

They failed to adequately prepare governors or states — setting off a desperate scramble for tests and medical supplies that left state governments bidding against each other

Trump ignored the governor’s pleas for supplies, scoffed at reports of a lack of PPE in hospitals and even accused nurses of stealing PPE more than once — claiming this was why so many more masks and supplies were needed.  

He falsely claimed numerous times the United States has the best testing in the entire world. In fact, Trump’s false claims and disproven statements concerning COVID-19 could fill an entire column. 

Now, with cases on the rise in 40 states, the Trump administration is going to close 13 federally funded COVID-19 testing sites. Instead of addressing the continuing COVID-19 problem head-on, Trump and his staff have chosen to avoid discussing it altogether. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred to the massive new outbreaks in states like Arizona as “embers” of COVID-19 that will quickly be put out. 

From his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the event at Mount Rushmore, Trump has flaunted his own administration’s guidance on social distancing and mask-wearing. He’s treating this pandemic like it’s already over instead of rapidly getting worse. 

Things didn’t have to be this bad, but they are. Everything I’ve mentioned above is the fault of the Trump administration. Though Trump continues to try to deflect and pass the blame to China, his incompetence is not their fault. 

He is trying to distract us from his failures. We can’t let him.