Pensive black doctor
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By Kevin Seraaj

Kevin Seraaj
Kevin Seraaj, OrlandoAdvocate

Back in May of this year, when Gov. DeSantis began reopening the state, the single-day record for COVID-19 deaths in Florida stood at 113. Thursday, 120 people died from the deadly disease, bringing the overall Florida death toll to 4,111.

Florida is now regularly experiencing record numbers of coronavirus infections and/or deaths. We have unofficially become the world’s focal point for COVID-19, averaging about 56 COVID-19-related deaths per day.

On the infection side, the numbers are are equally discouraging. Thursday’s 8,935 new COVID-19 cases gives Florida the dubious distinction of having the highest positivity rate in the world.

Despite those numbers, however, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has ordered Florida schools to reopen for in-person instruction next month. A number of parents, though, say that despite Corcoran’s order their children will not be in attendance when in-person instruction begins. We are still in the midst of an out-of-control pandemic, after all.

To understand why so many politicians seem to be out-of-step with the general public one needs only listen to their constituents. The blind, it appears, are too often leading the blind.

Either the coronavirus is killing people or it is facilitating the killing of people through pre-existing conditions people already have. Either way, people are dying– both young and old alike have been claimed. While questions about the virus’ origin are certainly important for medical investigators, ordinary people who see the risk of dying are understandably focused on keeping COVID-19 away.

There is a bigger picture. Americans want to work. The $1,200 stimulus check, while certainly better than no stimulus check at all, did little to put recipients in a place for a long-time struggle with this pandemic. While many Americans seem reluctant to risk exposing themselves to this virus they are now forced to ask themselves the question: do I stay home and be safe or go to work and pay the rent?

Nationally, over 100,000 people have died. This is the largest number of virus-related deaths anywhere in the world– and it keeps growing. Americans everywhere are grappling with the question: “How in the world did this happen?”

President Trump says ‘don’t look at me; it’s China’s fault, and the only reason we haven’t had more deaths is because I banned travel from China.’

In truth, the high death toll can be attributed to a number of things, but the president can’t be allowed to escape culpability for his own and the administration’s failings by simply pointing to his travel ban. It’s typical Trump sleight-of-hand. The original U.S. response was by any measure simply pathetic. Perhaps if the president had put more effort into leading when the coronavirus reared its head than into grandstanding, we might have been able to keep the virus contained.

January 2020: The world outside China became aware of the coronavirus. In a January 22 interview with CNBC Trump said: “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.” There was 1 confirmed case at the time

One day before Trump took to the airways reassuring the American public that everything was going to be just fine, doctors and medical professionals at the World Health Organization had said that the global risk for this virus was “high.”

Trump was not alone. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) also underestimated the danger of this disease– either that or they were unwilling to directly contradict the president’s public assessment of the risk.

According to the Washington Post, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, advised that “the risk posed by the virus to the general American population is low but that older adults with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk.” Translation: Little risk, little need for action. She did, however, to her credit, warn that more infections were likely. “This is an evolving situation and, again, we do expect additional cases in the United States and globally,” she said.

February 2020: President Trump spent a lot of time denying that the coronavirus was a real problem for Americans. At a rally in New Hampshire on February 10, he said: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

Five months later and it hasn’t “miraculously gone away.”

Trump’s continuing arrogance in not feeling he needs to consult with experts or to listen to them if he does has played a major role in the administration’s failure to focus on testing and marshalling the resources needed to confront this disease. Rather than listen to experts in the field, Trump sidelined them. No, he does not have a medical degree.

Dr. Rick Bright is a case in point. Bright was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis. He insisted that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into what he called “safe and scientifically vetted solutions,” instead of “potentially dangerous drugs” like hydroxychloroquine that Trump was calling a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus. He was dismissed and transferred to another job.

So, where do we stand with hydroxychloroquine today? On March 28, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), allowing doctors to use HCQ and chloroquine (CQ) products in situations where clinical trials were not an option. Last month, the FDA withdrew the EUA, saying it “has determined that CQ and HCQ are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA. Additionally, in light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of CQ and HCQ no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorized use.”

Seems like the guy with the Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis knew more about drugs than the real estate guy after all. Twelve confirmed cases.

By February 23, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. had jumped to 35. On February 24, the President tweeted that “[t]he Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” There were another 18 infections that day, bringing the total number to 53.

The steadily increasing number of infections didn’t seem important to the president. Maybe because there were not yet any reported deaths. So, there was no call for people to protect themselves; no call for mass testing; no marshaling of resources to deal with this potentially deadly disease.

Instead, at a news conference on February 27, Trump continued downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus, saying: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” 59 confirmed cases.

He wasn’t alone in this denial. His right-wing supporters were all pooh-pooing the idea of the coronavirus as some left-wing conspiracy to upset his presidency.

March 2020: There was a significant jump in infections in March, and people began dying. The President seemed to realize that just saying the virus was going to go away didn’t mean it was. He acknowledged the virus was spreading but still refused to concede that he was wrong in his handling of the crisis. Instead, he returned to an old, famiiar refrain: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power … to inflame the CoronaVirus situation.”

When the president doesn’t like the news, he calls it “fake,” knowing that his Trump supporters will parrot him and also vigorously dismiss it– whatever “it” is. If by “fake” the president truly meant talking without any data or evidence in support, the video reel above surely captures that. By March, though, there was no way any critically thinking person could dismiss the 605 confirmed cases and 17 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the stock market was in a nosedive, and deaths began doubling every few days. Stock markets continued to rapidly decline, and the U.S. death count began doubling every 3 or 4 days. The NBA canceled its season and Disney closed its parks. Other businesses began following suit. Trump was being left behind. When he couldn’t blame “the fake news media” anymore, he started backpedaling on his “no reason to be concerned” stance. All of a sudden, he was the Virus Warner. At a news conference on March 14, he said: “We’re using the full power of the federal government to defeat the virus, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Now, that’s fake news.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can spread directly and easily between people in close contact. Scientists didn’t know that at the outset of the infection. And to be honest, neither did the President, or people like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. When doctors like Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams advised people that the wearing of masks was only necessary for health care professionals treating infected patients, it was bad advice based on inadequate information. They have their own share of blame to shoulder. But once the research developed and it became clear that the disease can be spread by coughing, sneezing, speaking and breathing, their advice changed. Not Trump’s.

When the president became aware of the danger, he continued to tell the American people that it would miraculously go away. This inability the “Deal Maker” has to admit when he’s wrong will be the death of more Americans in the days ahead. To continue minimizing the anger of the threat bordered on being criminally reckless– especially since, as a new virus, there is no cure, vaccine, or widespread immunity to it.

Trump supporters continue their almost inane assault on the seriousness of the coronavirus by pointing to the relatively low numbers of dead as compared to the Spanish Flu. But where is the logic in comparing today’s (still increasing) COVID-19 deaths to the final number of deaths caused by the pandemic of 1918? The last memories I have of elementary school math was that you always get to 10 before you get to 100. The only way to make sure the 100,000 deaths we have seen so far do not continue to mount is to take steps now to slow the rate of infection while a vaccine is found.

Trump spent too much time resting in poor science when he should have been mobilizing the nation. The very possibility of this virus becoming a pandemic as experts were warning demanded that he err on the side of caution. As a result, the inadequate US response at the beginning finds us struggling now to keep the death toll in the U.S. from doubling over the next couple of months.

While Trump takes every opportunity to blame China for the virus, and credits himself for banning travel with that nation, his aides told the Wall Street Journal that Fauci, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar were actually the ones who convinced him to make that decision.

In spite of the new surge of laws requiring the wearing of masks in public buildings, there are still many people who refuse to wear them. Trump’s supporters are chief in this trespass– following the example of the president and vice-president. Sadly, Trump has millions of devoted followers who won’t be taking the safety precautions seriously– not wearing masks, not washing their hands– and that could ultimately prove disastrous for the health and welfare of the rest of us.

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Kevin Seraaj, J.D., M.Div., leads the Cornerstone Media Group, an Orlando-based newspaper publisher.