A Timeline of Tragedy

by Daryl Slusher

January 21. First US coronavirus case is announced in Washington state. Worldwide, the virus which originated in China, has spread to China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. 

January 22. In an interview Donald Trump is asked if he is “worried about a pandemic at this point?” 

“No, we’re not at all. We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” 1 US Case – 0 Deaths.

[Figures on cases and deaths used herein are from the University of Virginia COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard. Cases means total confirmed cases.]

January 24. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns, “WHO assesses the risk of this event to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.” 2 US cases – 0 deaths.

January 30. The WHO declares a global health emergency. Trump bans travel to the U.S. from China. At a campaign rally in Iowa that night he tells the crowd: “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. … we think it’s going to have a very good ending for it.” 6 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 2.  On Sean Hannity show on Fox News, Hannity asks: “How concerned are you,” 

Trump: “Well, we’ve pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” 9 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 10. At White House: “A lot of people think that goes away in April.” 12 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 14. Trump speaking to Border Patrol gathering: “We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it. It’s like around 12.  Many of them are getting better.  Some are fully recovered already.  So we’re in very good shape.”  14 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 24. Trump tweets that the corona virus “is very much under control,” “adding, “Stock market starting to look very good to me!” The same day the stock market plummets then continues down in sporadic plunges, with a few occasional bumps back up. 16 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 26. “It’s going to be down close to zero [referring to coronavirus cases, not the stock market]“ and “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for.  And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.” 17 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 27: “It’s going to disappear. Like a miracle it will disappear.”  

And, regarding any potential relief package, “Hopefully, we’re not going to have to spend so much because we really think we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum.  And again, we’ve had tremendous success — tremendous success — beyond what people would have thought.” 17 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 28. At rally in South Carolina: “One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it.’ They tried the impeachment hoax,” continued Trump. “And this is their new hoax.” 

Also, Trump tells the adoring crowd that up to 100,000 people per year die from the flu (an exaggerated number; according to the Associated Press 80,000 Americans died two flu seasons ago, “the highest death toll in at least four decades,” with this flu seasons US deaths expected to range from 16,000 to 41,000 ). Yet, continued Trump, “so far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States.” The crowd cheers. “It doesn’t mean we won’t, but you wonder why the press is in hysteria mode.” 21 US cases – 0 deaths.

February 29. The first American died from coronavirus the day after Trump bragged to the South Carolina crowd about zero deaths. 25 US cases – 1 death.

March 2. At a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump promises. “They can have vaccines, I think relatively soon.” By now, six Americans are dead from the coronavirus. 56 US cases –  6 deaths.

March 10. “It’s really working out.” 1,014 US cases – 30 deaths.

March 13. At a White House briefing NBC reporter Kristen Welker asked Trump: “Dr. Fauci said earlier this week that the lag in testing was, in fact, ‘a failing.’  Do you take responsibility for that? And when can you guarantee that every single American who needs a test will be able to have a test?  What’s the date of that?” 

“No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” replied Trump. He, nor others, ever answers the question about when every American who needs a test will be able to get one. 2,293 US cases – 50 deaths

Later in the briefing, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS followed up on the taking responsibility angle: “You said that you don’t take responsibility, but you did disband the White House pandemic office, and the officials that were working in that office left this administration abruptly.  So what responsibility do you take for that?  And the officials that worked in that office said that you — that the White House lost valuable time because that office was disbanded.  What do you make of that?”

Trump: “Well, I just think it’s a nasty question,” adding, “when you say ‘me,’ I didn’t do it.” He then asked Dr. Fauci if he could explain it. Fauch gave a not me gesture.

March 16. “How would you rate your response to this crisis?”

“I’d rate it a 10.”  4,736 US cases – 92 deaths.

March 17. “This is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” 6,507 US cases – 115 deaths.

March 19. At daily press briefing: “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.” A multitude of publications ruled Trump’s claim that “nobody knew. . .” as wildly inaccurate, including: FactCheck.org; the New York Times, and the Washington Post. 14,332 US cases – 212 deaths.

FactCheck.org listed among those who warned of a potential pandemic: 

  • the U.S. intelligence community in its annual threat report in 2019; 
  • the director of Medical and Biodefense Preparedness Policy at the National Security Council at 2018 symposium; 
  • the the RAND Corporation in a 2012 report called “Threats Without Threateners; 
  • a host of imminent academics; and 
  • the outgoing Obama Administration which specifically warned the incoming Trump Administration. 

FactCheck.org ultimately concluded, “It is not possible to predict when a pandemic will occur, but Trump is wrong to say that ‘nobody knew’ a ‘pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion’ could happen.”

Also March 19. In response to continuing pleas from governors and others for federal help in organizing the acquisition and delivery of tests and medical equipment such as masks and ventilators, Trump proclaimed: “The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.” 2,293 US cases – 50 deaths. .

March 21. “In hard-hit areas, testing restricted to health care workers, hospital patients” a Washington Post headline, similar to many others across the country. In the days afterward a multitude of stories document the desperate struggles of health care workers to obtain personal protection equipment and to obtain ventilators to treat the most seriously ill patients. 26,895 US cases – 346 deaths.

March 24. Trump switches course again, engaging in an all day offensive maintaining that “the cure cannot be worse than the problem” and calling for rolling back social distancing and reopening the economy by Easter, April 12. “You are going to lose a number of people to the flu [by that he meant coronavirus], but you are going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression. You are going to have suicides by the thousands — you are going to have all sorts of things happen. You are going to have instability. You can’t just come in and say let’s close up the United States of America, the biggest, the most successful country in the world by far.” (The Associated Press reports this reversal came after a conference call with “business leaders.”) 

Trump added piously in a Fox news interview, “Easter’s a very special day for me. Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” Trump later continued. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.” Also, at a White House briefing Trump said, “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” 

Adding to the special nature of Easter for Trump were plans for a huge Easter Sunday buffet at his Washington hotel, the one leased from the federal government. 55,236 US cases – 802 deaths.

March 25. Trump tweets: “The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP.  We will be stronger than ever before!”

Referring to that tweet later in the day at the White House briefing, CBS News reporter Paula Reid asked Trump, “Is this Easter timeline based on your political interests,” adding when challenged by Trump, “you said the media wants the economy to remain closed to hurt (interrupted).”

Trump interrupted and replied: “I think the media would like to see me to do poorly in the election.”

Standing her ground, Reid reminds him that lawmakers on both sides have said that “reopening the country by Easter is not a good idea.” 

Trump: “I think there are certain people that would like it not to open so quickly. I think there are certain people that would like it to do financially poorly because they think that would be very good as far as defeating me at the polls. I don’t know if that’s so, but I do think it’s so that there are people in your profession that would like that to happen. I think it’s very clear that there are people in your profession that write fake news. You do.  She does. . . We’ve done one hell of a job.  Nobody’s done the job that we’ve done.  And it’s lucky that you have this group here, right now, for this problem, or you wouldn’t even have a country left.” 69,222 US cases – 1,050 deaths

Sunday March 29. Without acknowledging it, Trump totally reverses course on plans to lift social distancing guidelines and pack Americans into churches on Easter. Instead he says CDC social distancing guidelines will stay in place until at least April 30. He and Doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx now cite a figure of 100,000 or more deaths. Evidently giving up on the virus magically disappearing, Trump now claims limiting deaths to 100,000 would be a “good job.

“if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — it’s a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000, so, we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job.” 

Also, on Sunday March 29, Trump urged the press to look into an alleged disappearance of masks and implies that medical personnel are stealing them: “Something’s going on. And you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going — are they going out the back door?” 143,101 US cases – 2,517 deaths.

Tuesday March 31. Trump kicks off the daily press briefing with a statement emphasizing the seriousness of the situation: 

“Our country is in the midst of a great national trial, unlike any we have ever faced before.  You all see it.  You see it probably better than most.

We’re at war with a deadly virus.  Success in this fight will require the full, absolute measure of our collective strength, love, and devotion.  Very important.”

He goes on to wax about how Americans will rise to occasion; note the use of the past tense on the economy: 

“I know our citizens will rise to the occasion, and they already have sacrificed a lot.  We had the greatest economy in the history of our country.  We had the greatest economy in the world.  We had the best unemployment numbers and employment numbers that we’ve ever had, by far.  And in one instant, we said we have no choice but to close it up.  Just as Americans have always done, they will do a job like few have seen before.  And they’re proud to do it, and I see that. There’s a great pride going on right now.”

Trump also has a different take on medical workers who only two days earlier he accused of stealing masks: 

“And I will tell you that to see the scenes of trailers out there (at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NYC) and what they’re doing with those trailers — they’re freezers — and nobody can even believe it. And I spoke to some of my friends; they can’t believe what they’re seeing.  And I watched the doctors and the nurses walking into that hospital this morning.  It’s like military people going into battle, going into war. The bravery is incredible. . They’re going in and they don’t know — you have — you have lots of things flying around in the air. ”

Sometime thereafter, Trump turned the microphone over to Dr. Deborah Birx who referred the socially distanced assembled media to “that large blue mountain that you can see behind me.” Birx is referring to a large chart and the “blue mountain” is a curve on the chart estimating “between 1.5 million and 2.2 million people in the United States succumbing to this virus without mitigation.” Just to be totally clear, by “succumbing” she means dying. 

But, continues Birx, with “social distancing. . . if people stayed home. . . if people were careful every day to wash their hands and worry about touching their faces,” then the “mountain” could instead become “a hill, actually — down to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths, which,” she hastens to add, “is still way too much.” (The actual top number on “the hill” was 230,000.) The 100,000 to 230,000 deaths is, as Birx warned, only that low if Americans broadly comply with social distancing and other advice. According to numerous press reports, it was finally absorbing these numbers — at least to some extent — that caused Trump to abandon his Easter plans.

Just to make sure a reporter asks Fauci, “Dr. Fauci, should Americans be prepared for the likelihood that there will be 100,000 Americans who die from this virus?”

“The answer is yes,” Fauci replies, adding that he hopes it can be driven lower, but “being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves that that is a possibility.” 

A reporter later asked specifically about Florida where the Republican Governor Ron DeSantis had refused to issue a Shelter In Place or Stay at Home order despite a large elderly population and rising case and death counts. Vice-President Mike Pence responded, “At the President’s direction, the White House Coronavirus Task Force will continue to take the posture that we will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate” — thus even while facing a million American deaths or more, still paying homage to the doctrine of states rights. (DeSantis finally issued a shelter-in-place order on Wednesday, April 1.) 189,800 US cases – 4,087 deaths.

April 1. In what seemed like some sort of really twisted April Fool’s joke, Trump assembled behind him for his daily briefing the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, and other top military brass — all standing much closer than six feet apart. “We are attacking the virus on every front,” Trump began. Then he announced that the Justice Department and the military were teaming up to stop drug cartels from taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to smuggle more drugs into the country. Simultaneously, Trump warned Iran and Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq against any attacks on American personnel during the crisis. The military was ready for that too, he said.

Trump evidently missed the irony of launching the Justice Department and the military against drug cartels after for months failing, and refusing, to amass the power of the federal government to attack the corona virus. Or, perhaps he was just rubbing it in the country’s face.

The April Fool’s irony just wouldn’t stop. For instance, Trump was asked how he felt about China portraying itself as helping countries around the world combat the virus, for instance by providing medical equipment. Trump replied that he was fine with that, and elaborated: “We have 151 countries right now that are under siege by the virus. Some are doing really badly. They don’t know about social distancing. These are countries that aren’t highly sophistacated. They don’t have great communication to the rest of the world. They don’t know the things that we are doing and that some others are able to do.” Trump ignored, or didn’t realize, the fact that the United States has the most cases in the world, has heart breaking shortages of protective equipment for medical personnel, and the worst curve as far as turning the corner on the increase in cases.

If possible though National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien outdid his boss when it came to irony. In between praising Trump, O’Brien vowed, “The United States will continue to combat disinformation and fake news about this virus.” O’Brien did not cite any examples of disinformation and fake news.  216,762 confirmed cases. 5,148 deaths.

April 2. Worldwide: Cases top one million. 51,310 deaths

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