WASHINGTON (AP) – Masks were rarely spotted in the West Wing. Crowds of people gathered side by side on the South Lawn of the White House. And Air Force One has crossed the sky from one large campaign gathering to another.
With easy access to testing and the best minds in public health at his disposal, President Donald Trump should have been the safest American from COVID-19. Instead, he flouted his own government’s guidelines and helped create a false sense of invulnerability in the White House, an approach that has now failed him as it has in a country where more than 200 000 people died.
Marine One, the presidential helicopter, took off Friday to take Trump to a military hospital from the same White House lawn that, less than a week earlier, had been the site of his appointment in a new Supreme Court judge on his way to the November elections. .
Several people at the event, including a US senator, have since tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump is now locked up in Walter Reed Medical Center after having a fever and feeling tired after his early morning revelation that he tested positive for the virus.
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“He let the country down by ignoring the CDC, ignoring federal guidelines and acting like he was Superman,” Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “He didn’t just play down the virus, he paraded like a peacock, mocking those who took him seriously.
From the early days of the pandemic, Trump, by his own admission, downplayed the severity of the virus. He has repeatedly suggested that it will “disappear” and for a time he pushed for the full reopening of the US economy by Easter, just a month after the pandemic completely engulfed the country.
And he quickly began to resist advice from public health experts from his own coronavirus task force, including Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx. He has publicly clashed with heads of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over everything from risks associated with opening schools to the schedule of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
White House staff did not dare to break away from the president, who wanted to be a nation on the way home, not a nation obsessed with health guidelines that would remind a nervous public of the virus rather than one. economic resurgence.
Experts have urged the widespread use of masks, including CDC Director Robert Redfield, who testified before Congress last month that face covers may be a more effective guarantee than a vaccine. Trump avoided their use, telling assistants he didn’t like what he looked like and that sent a message to the public that he was concerned about his health.
He only wore masks sporadically and politicized their use, saying he didn’t need them because he had been tested and most people he saw were held at six feet. He mocked Democrat Joe Biden for always wearing a face mask, while many of the president’s supporters have followed his lead and ignored them, even at crowded events.
And their use, while technically required, has not been applied in the White House either. Most senior assistants rarely wore masks, even in the tight spaces of the West Wing or Air Force One. A belief grew that because those who came into contact with the president were given a quick COVID-19 test every day, they were safe in their bubble.
But rapid tests were far from foolproof and were sometimes thwarted by the virus’s long incubation period. Staff, including the national security adviser and the president’s personal valet, contracted the virus while one of the president’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive just hours before Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump.
“He laughed at the medical experts and their advice. He laughed at it all until the presidential debate when he showed up on this stage, ”said Michael Steele, former leader of the Republican Party. “He had the best information he could and didn’t take it.”
The White House, for its part, has brushed aside criticism of Trump and his staff wearing a spotted mask, citing the frequent testing regime. Trump calls his large campaign rallies “peaceful protests” with no limits on crowd size. And when it comes to Trump’s undercutting of public health officials, officials are quick to report contrary medical opinions.
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Journalist Bob Woodward taped Trump earlier this year admitting he was downplaying the virus threat. The president has always pushed forward, insisting the nation was almost on top of the pandemic even as cases rose across the country.
Even within hours of the president’s diagnosis, senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, marched around the White House complex without wearing masks. The White House, even now, says face covers are a matter of “personal choice” for most employees.
In a late change, National Security Council staff members had to start wearing them from Friday. Secret service agents are required to wear them when social distancing is not possible.
And it wasn’t just a question of masks.
As the summer draws to a close and Trump lags behind Biden in the polls for an election seen as a referendum on the White House’s handling of the pandemic, the president’s campaign aimed to project normalcy into a effort to convince voters that the president had the virus under control.
After a failed attempt to restart Trump-branded rallies in Tulsa in June, the campaign slowly began to hold smaller fan gatherings, usually outdoors at airports. Although the CDC recommended avoiding large crowds and unnecessary travel, the president began crisscrossing the country, even though Biden largely stayed at home, performing virtual eves.
Rallies have grown in importance over the months, with little social distancing and face masks recommended but not mandatory. And crowds became part of the message for two of the president’s recent signing events: Hundreds of people filled the South Lawn of the White House for his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and the rose garden was full. for her chosen Supreme Court appointment, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a week ago.
Six days later, Trump was on this lawn again. This time, he walked slowly to the waiting helicopter, bound for Walter Reed for a stay of several days in the hospital. There was no enthusiastic crowd. And everyone on the lawn, reporter and staff, wore a mask. Trump did too.