We all know the reason. It’s the same attitude that led Trump to say with regret for many months that America only has more confirmed cases than other countries because we do more testing than other countries.
If only we were all more ignorant of the facts on the ground, there wouldn’t be so much bad news in the papers to make trouble for the president.
Doing extensive contact-tracing on the possible superspreader event in the Rose Garden for Amy Coney Barrett 10 days ago might uncover some unpleasant facts. Like, for instance, that many hundreds of people across the country are now part of the chain of transmission created that day by a reckless White House that used flawed tests on its guests and advised them incorrectly that it was fine not to wear masks during the proceedings. Eventually there may be deaths among that group.
Or, alternately, contact-tracing might uncover that Trump himself was part of the original cluster of cases that turned into a superspreader event during the festivities for Barrett. He, Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, and Bill Stepien could have all contracted the virus a few days earlier during debate prep and then brought it with them to the Rose Garden.
Either one of those revelations would be a political disaster for Trump. And so, forced to choose between his political interests and the basic safety of everyone who was at the event and everyone else who’s been in contact with those people before or after, the White House is going to put his interests first, naturally.
[The White House] has limited its efforts to notifying people who came in close contact with Mr. Trump in the two days before his Covid diagnosis Thursday evening. It has also cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has the government’s most extensive knowledge and resources for contact tracing, out of the process.…
“This is a total abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration,” said Dr. Joshua Barocas, a public health expert at Boston University, who has advised the City of Boston on contact tracing. “The idea that we’re not involving the C.D.C. to do contact tracing at this point seems like a massive public health threat.”…
After Mr. Trump’s illness was diagnosed, an internal C.D.C. email on Friday asked the agency’s scientists to be ready to go to Washington for contact tracing, but a request from the White House for assistance never came, according to two senior C.D.C. scientists…
The timing of the diagnosis of Mr. Trump’s illness makes it highly likely that he and the others became infected on Saturday, medical experts said. Symptoms typically appear around five days after exposure to the virus; Mr. Trump began showing symptoms on Thursday, “right smack dab in the day” he would be expected to, Dr. Maldonado said.
The White House told the Times that the CDC typically recommends tracing contacts only during the two-day period before diagnosis, which in Trump’s case was Thursday afternoon. The Barrett event was five days earlier. But that’s silly in a case where we know there was a cluster of infected people in the Rose Garden on that Saturday and even sillier given that the timeline for Trump becoming symptomatic lines up with the Barrett ceremony. “There were a lot of people working at that event, and so they need to be contact tracing that whole event,” one doctor told the Times, while another reminded the paper that lots of working-class people work at the White House in support roles. Some number of them could have been infected and carried the virus back to their neighborhoods, where outbreaks might be under way. At the very least, the White House should be encouraging everyone who was there that day to phone anyone they had contact with in the days afterward to let them know they might be at risk.
But that would be bad PR, highlighting the fact that the White House might have mismanaged its way into a superspreader event on its own lawn that’s already put three senators out of commission. So they’re not going to do it.
The fact that the CDC is on call, ready to help here, but hasn’t been asked to intervene is also telling. (Under regulations, notes the Times, the agency can’t contribute unless its assistance is requested.) Members of the Trump White House, including cronies installed at HHS like Michael Caputo, have grumbled for months about the CDC undermining Trump’s “back to normal” political message with allegedly alarmist guidance about the virus. Just today there was a new story about Caputo’s “science advisor” (who’s since left the administration) leaning on the agency to change a report about COVID’s risks to kids in order to make the report more supportive of Trump’s pitch to reopen schools. Some of Trump’s political aides, like Caputo, seem to believe that a “deep state” at the CDC is trying to actively undermine him. The CDC itself would doubtless say that they’re trying to give the public the most accurate guidance they can even if it doesn’t necessarily serve Trump’s political goals.
Either way, you can see why the White House wouldn’t trust the CDC to contact-trace the Barrett event. The agency might actually do a thorough job and then might accurately report its findings, leading to one or more of the political disasters I described above. The CDC simply can’t be trusted to loyally suppress facts that might make Trump look bad, especially in the home stretch of a campaign. So they haven’t been asked to help out, never mind the risk to hundreds of White House staffers.
Care to guess who’s in charge of the White House contact-tracing effort, such as it is, instead? It’s the White House Medical Unit, headed by Sean Conley. That’s the same Sean Conley who misled Americans on Saturday about whether the president had received oxygen at any point, then said yesterday that he did so in order to be “upbeat” about Trump’s condition (which is what a press flack, not a doctor, might say), and then refused to give answers today about when Trump’s last negative test was and whether his lung scans showed evidence of pneumonia. The White House naturally wants to keep contact-tracing under Conley’s jurisdiction because at this point they know that he’ll put Trump’s political interests above the public interest in deciding which information to release. They’ve had evidence of it for days.
As for how Senate Republicans are dealing with the political fallout from all of this, I’ll give you three examples highlighting the different electoral predicaments they find themselves. Here’s what you say about Trump’s bout with COVID if you’re running in a state that’s turning purple, where Democrats nearly knocked off your Senate colleague two years ago and you’re eager to appeal to the center:
“I think he let his guard down, and I think in his desire to try to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and that the danger is not still with us — I think he got out over his skis and frankly, I think it’s a lesson to all of us that we need to exercise self discipline,” Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle editorial board…
Cornyn also said the president “should’ve known” that comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward about downplaying the virus in his public statements would be published. He said that while he believes Trump’s policy actions on the virus — including shutting off travel to and from China and supporting stimulus packages worth trillions of dollars — “demonstrated the seriousness of the virus,” the president’s rhetoric at times “creates confusion.”
“He tries to balance that with saying, ‘Well you know, we got this.’ And clearly we don’t have this,” Cornyn said. “I think the biggest mistake people make in public life is not telling the truth, particularly in something with as much public interest as here because you know the real story is going to come out.”
Cornyn’s highly likely to hold his seat in Texas, but between Trump’s debate performance and the ongoing PR clusterfark of a massive COVID outbreak at the White House seeded by administrative negligence, all bets might be off a few weeks from now.
Here’s what you say about Trump and COVID if you’re running in a “jungle primary” in a state that’s turning purple but your main competition happens to come from a populist Republican who’s threatening to consolidate the president’s voters:
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) October 5, 2020
There’s no pander too low-rent for Loeffler in trying to show off her MAGA allegiance to Trump fans in Georgia. Doug Collins is a much more genuine populist than an ultra-rich former CEO who’s married to the head of the Intercontinental Exchange, but Loeffler’s betting Trump voters won’t mind that so long as she kisses the president’s ass and makes broad culture-war gestures against groups like BLM. She’s probably right.
Finally, here’s what you say about Trump and COVID if you’re not up for election this year and represent a solid red state where you can hold your seat as long as you want without worrying about a primary so long as you continue to advance the president’s talking points:
Sen. Kennedy (R-LA) says Trump’s diagnosis shows COVID is “not nearly as lethal as the experts told us it would be.” pic.twitter.com/yaTFQyoZKp
— The Recount (@therecount) October 5, 2020
Kennedy’s already all-in on the “Trump beating COVID proves it’s not a threat” message even before POTUS has cleared the virus from his system. That’s a strong commitment to the “reopen everything now” program.
I’ll leave you with this scene of Trump striding out the front door of Walter Reed today after being discharged. He took off his mask upon arrival at the White House and didn’t put it back on when entering the building, with others nearby, for reasons known only to him. The unspoken answer to the question shouted at him in the clip is, “Let’s not do any contact-tracing to find out, just in case I am.”
A reporter asks Trump as he walks out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center: "Do you think you might be a super spreader, Mr. President?" pic.twitter.com/204tZMHqWD
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) October 5, 2020