The United States passed yet another grim milestone this week as it recorded more than 400,000 deaths due to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
According to numbers tallied by NBC News, more than 400,103 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 as of early Tuesday. Additionally, more than 24 million Americans have tested positive for COVID since the crisis began in the United States.
It’s been close to a full year since the first case of coronavirus was identified in the U.S., which happened on January 21, 2020. The first confirmed death from coronavirus happened a little more than a month later, in late February 2020.
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
Americans continue to be deeply concerned about the pandemic. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 11 percent of respondents said that the virus outbreak was “completely” or “mostly” under control, while 88 percent said it was only “somewhat” or “not at all” under control at this time.
Many Americans, the poll also found, say that leadership, specifically from President Donald Trump, has been lacking. Only 38 percent of Americans approve of how Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic, a number that ties with his lowest approval rating since the ABC News/Washington Post poll started asking the question back in March. Fifty-nine percent of Americans disapprove of how he’s handled the pandemic.
From the start and through the end of his presidency, Trump has consistently downplayed the threat of coronavirus to the general public. In February, for example, rather than taking the possibility of a pandemic seriously, he described fears about coronavirus as a “new hoax” being driven against him by Democrats and the media in order to make him look bad.
Also in late February, Trump went against the views of several health experts, and suggested that the number of cases that had been identified would diminish rather than grow in the coming days.
“When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” Trump said on February 27, giving himself kudos for how he had handled things up to that point.
Of course, that’s not what happened — the virus continued to spread at an alarming pace. Comments the president made to veteran journalist Bob Woodward seemed to suggest he knew that was going to happen.
In recordings of interviews between Woodward and Trump that the former released this past summer, Trump said he purposely downplayed the threat the virus posed to the country, and admitted that it would be deadlier than the flu, contradicting statements he had made to the press and on Twitter.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward in an interview recorded in mid-March. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Concern about a panic likely wasn’t the only thing on Trump’s mind, however, as he also indicated that his comments about the virus centered on his political future, and his reluctance to take the pandemic seriously appeared to be tied to his concerns about his reelection.
Within a week of the White House’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign, which began March 16, Trump had already indicated he wanted to take a different direction, tweeting in all capital letters, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” Two days after that, Trump blamed the media for trying to keep the economy closed in order to hurt him politically.
“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,” he said in a tweet on March 25.
Trump has also discouraged Americans from taking steps recommended by public health experts to limit the spread of COVID-19. In a Wall Street Journal interview in June, the president expressed the view that wearing masks was a personal affront to him, worn by those who opposed his presidency, out of spite toward him. Trump also regularly expressed doubts about the efficacy of masks, in that interview and beyond.
People “put their finger on the mask, and they take them off, and then they start touching their eyes and touching their nose and their mouth. And then they don’t know how they caught it?” Trump said.
A significant body of research has shown that masks do indeed work to stop the spread of coronavirus. Not only are they beneficial to everyone around the mask-wearer, they’re also helpful in stopping the spread of the virus to those who are wearing masks.
In spite of the evidence showing masks are effective, Trump rarely wears them in public, and has hosted several campaign rallies and events at the White House where his supporters could be seen, oftentimes packed in tight spaces, without face masks. These events likely had dire consequences: according to one study, 18 campaign rallies that Trump hosted were responsible for the coronavirus-linked deaths of at least 700 individuals.
The failure of the Trump administration to properly control the spread of coronavirus will have far-reaching consequences, even as President-elect Joe Biden is set to take over as president this week. Even with consideration for a fast rollout of vaccines over the next couple of months, a health model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows that another 166,000 Americans are predicted to die from COVID-19 by May 1 of this year.
That number could be reduced by more than 30,000 deaths, however, if masks were worn universally. Biden has said he will make promoting mask-wearing a priority of his first 100 days in office.