Andy breaks down what we know about – and what we can learn from – the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Andy’s USA Today piece on Trump’s COVID-19 opportunity: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/10/02/trump-positive-covid-chance-to-promote-masks-save-lives-column/5895939002/
- Stay up-to-date with this COVID-19 live blog from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/10/02/world/covid-19-coronavirus
- Are you hoping to vote in the 2020 election? Are you confused about how to request an absentee ballot in your state? This website can help you with that: https://www.betterknowaballot.com/
- Pre-order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response, here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
[00:48] Welcome to In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. This is a special edition. Donald Trump yesterday was diagnosed as positive with COVID-19, along with first lady Melania Trump. Thought I’d put out a special edition to just process what we know at this time and some of the important lessons learned and things to look out for are at this moment. So, let’s start with what we know. First, we know that the president tested positive sometime this week. The positive tests came back last evening. We’re not sure exactly when the virus was transmitted. It could have been transmitted from Hope Hicks to the president, but it is also entirely possible that it went the other way. We will have to learn as contact tracing goes on. We know the president is reporting mild symptoms and is supposed to be quarantining for 14 days. We will see if that happens. My sense is, given the election, depending on how he’s feeling, we may see that revised. Something else we know is that 40,000 other people were diagnosed as positive with COVID-19 yesterday. And if you believe the statistics coming out of the University of Washington, it’s actually 120,000 people that were exposed to COVID-19 yesterday. So Trump is a big story in a much larger picture. And we won’t see news items of those people’s exposure. We won’t understand the circumstances of their exposure. Those people may not get contact tracing. A large number of them aren’t getting tested, about two-thirds of them. So they won’t know who they’re exposing to the virus. And if they get hospitalized, we’ll never see it. And if they die, we’ll never see it.
[02:34] Many of those people were, unlike the president in circumstances, that didn’t allow them to mask up or require people around them to wear masks or follow safe public health practices. We also know that Trump and his staff were not wearing masks at the debate. He mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask. But it’s important to know that he and his team were very close to Chris Wallace, and certainly potentially jeopardized him. As of now, Joe Biden is negative. As of now, many people in the White House have tested negative. But it’s important to remember that they’re going to need to keep getting tested every day because the virus takes a little while before it is able to be found. So those are the facts as we have them. I’m sure they’ll change a little bit. Let’s talk about what we learned from this. What’s important out of this? And first of all, let’s not politicize the president’s health as an individual. Let’s draw an important distinction between him as an individual and his role as an elected leader. Millions of people, millions of followers, the example he sets and the policies he puts forward, I think those are very much ripe for discussion. My first conclusion here is that Trump either doesn’t know or he doesn’t care how COVID-19 works. He doesn’t understand that people can have COVID-19 without knowing. He doesn’t understand that it can be passed to people who don’t know they’re passing it. And he doesn’t understand that viruses are programmed to find weak spots. They’re programmed to find people who will breathe around other people like helicopters, who will not wear masks.
[04:36] The second conclusion I would make is that it’s one thing to be careless with yourself. The president was careless with other people. He was careless with the people he went to do a fundraising event for in Bedminster. He was careless with people here in Minnesota at an indoor fundraiser. He knowingly put himself in close contact with people at a fundraising event in New Jersey, after he was aware that he’d been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Why do we suggest that people wear masks? You wear a mask because you don’t know if you have COVID-19. You wear a mask because you can’t possibly know if others have COVID-19. And you wear a mask if you have consideration for and care about others in your community. Simply that. So for the president of the United States, mask wearing is also important for bigger reasons. We know from studies that if 80 percent of the country wore masks, tens of thousands of lives would be saved and the virus would diminish quickly. So many of those who don’t wear masks are highly influenced by the president. We know about 50 percent of the country is wearing a mask. He has the power to change that with his actions and change the course of the disease in the process. He had every opportunity to wear a mask. He chose not to. And this is the consequence. And I think for many people, there might be a lesson. So what should happen from here? First of all, I think we should take the view that if it’s good enough for the president of the United States, it should be good enough for 45,000 other people. The president of the United States can be around people that can have access to as much testing as they need, have access to as much PPE as they need, whether they use it or not. He cannot sit here in this country and not give the necessary resources to the rest of the country. He denied sending out five masks to every person in hot zones in April in Detroit, in New York City, in New Orleans. The president could have but chose not to send all of those folks masks. He could have alerted the country that COVID-19 was spreading, that it was possible that it would be a community spread. That people were going to die. He chose not to. But he has an opportunity now. Here’s an opportunity today. And I think about what happened in Britain with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Let me play for you a clip of what Boris Johnson had to say when he left the hospital.
[07:13] Boris Johnson: We are now beginning to turn the tide. If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger — which I can tell you from personal experience, it is — then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.
[07:37] Boris Johnson, before his hospitalization with COVID-19, was recklessly shaking hands, putting down the virus, not taking it seriously, talking about herd immunity. But after that experience, he was a changed person. And one can only hope that the president, the first lady and the first family take this enormous opportunity ahead of them. Maybe they can use the moment the same way Johnson did by telling the country they must take this more seriously by wearing masks. Everywhere they go, particularly in the West Wing and close quarters, particularly if they are going to do events with their supporters. And no longer mocking people who follow public health guidance by wearing masks. Trump has always had the power to depoliticize this pandemic, and he’s chosen at virtually every turn to do the opposite, to sow greater divisions in our country. A divided country is self-defeating in a pandemic. The continent of Africa, with 1.3 billion people has only 35,000 deaths. What we’re asking here of the president isn’t particularly high-tech. It’s not about a vaccine. It’s not about a pipe dream. It’s not about a medicine that’s a miracle cure. It’s a piece of cloth. And having consideration for others and some compassion. If the president can find those things within him, we have a much better chance of preventing tens of thousands more deaths. And that’s what this moment should be about. It’s not about the election. It’s not about his health. It’s not even about his rogue behavior.
[09:33] It’s about tens of thousands of lives in a pandemic that we can control anytime we want to with the right leadership. He needs to get on that as he sits home and recovers and contemplates. That’s it for our special edition. We’ll be coming to you Monday with another show.