Health officials and scientists working on the Trump administration’s coronavirus response said on Tuesday they are personally offended by the White House’s announcement that it has successfully ended the COVID-19 pandemic—a pandemic that is, in fact, worsening.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said that it considered “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” to be one of President Donald Trump’s major first term accomplishments. The office released a corresponding report that listed achievements of the Trump administration in the area of science and innovation.
“It’s mind-boggling,” one official said of the White House’s assertion it had ended the pandemic. “There’s no world in which anyone can think that [statement] is true. Maybe the president. But I don’t see how even he can believe that. We have more than 70,000 new cases each day.”
Four officials working with the White House coronavirus task force told The Daily Beast that they viewed the White House’s statement as a personal slight and a public rebuke of their efforts to try and get control of the virus.
In the report released Tuesday, the Office of Science and Technology Policy said that, “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administration has taken decisive actions to engage scientists and health professionals in academic, industry, and government to understand, treat and defeat the disease.” But officials who work with the task force said that the president and his team have often refused to listen to their advice in favor of efforts to reopen the country. For more than seven months, they said, they have tried to convince the American public to take COVID-19 seriously, arguing that the virus would only begin to subside—and death rates slow—if people listened to their warnings to wear masks, keep social distance, and observe quarantine rules.
Officials described the report as the latest example of the president and his team of advisers refusing to acknowledge that the U.S. is experiencing a worrying resurgence of the virus. The document, they added, underscored the extent to which the White House believes there is nothing more than can be done to contain the pandemic. As recently reported by The Daily Beast, Team Trump is now solely focused on cutting the death rate by protecting the most vulnerable, namely those in nursing homes.
“We have exploding case counts. Death rates will undoubtedly rise. They are living in a parallel universe that bears no relation to the reality that Americans are living,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control in the Obama administration. “And this idea that we should let it spread and protect the vulnerable is a really dangerous mistake. The idea that it [containing the virus] can’t be done ignores reality.”
More than 225,000 people have died of the virus so far and the U.S. is now clocking more COVID-19 cases per day than during the virus’ peak in the Spring. Hospitalizations are also rising in several states.
And it could get worse, officials say. Officials in the administration tasked with responding to the virus say they are working overtime to try and get control of the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country. One official said they are working 14-hour days to ensure communities and local officials in hot spots continue to implement strict mask and social distancing guidelines. Other officials said they are trying to ensure each state has what it needs to distribute a vaccine when the time comes. Another said they were “exasperated” with trying to manage the White House’s attitude toward the virus while also ensuring the rest of the administration shared the message that Americans need to continue to take steps to prevent community spread.
“The White House is operating on a completely different speed than the rest of the health agencies,” one senior administration official said. “They’ve all but given up on the idea that there is more to do in terms of getting a handle on these new cases that are popping up. The rest of us still view the threat of those cases as the top concern.”
The White House’s statement Tuesday came after President Trump hosted yet another ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The last ceremony has been described by health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, as a “superspreader event.” Despite the latest West Wing outbreak, the White House went ahead with the ceremony anyway. The White House refused to answer questions about whether the attendees had been tested or whether they were mandated to wear masks.