By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The number of global fatalities from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 905,000 on Thursday and the U.S. death toll rose above 191,000, amid widespread criticism of President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, after journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Trump admitted to him that he deliberately downplayed the virus in the early part of the outbreak.
Trump told Woodward in interviews for the storied journalist’s new book, “Rage,” that the coronavirus was “deadly stuff,” even as he minimized the health threat publicly by telling Americans that COVID-19 was “under control” and “going to disappear.” CNN and the Washington Post published accounts of the comments from advance copies of the book, and released copies of the audio tapes.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, days after he had declared COVID-19 a national emergency. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump acknowledged the tapes were authentic on Fox News Wednesday night.
Trump’s Democratic rival for the November presidential race Joe Biden immediately condemned the president for failing to do his job and protect the American people.
“He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose,” said Biden. “It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people,” Biden added, speaking at a campaign event in Warren, Michigan. “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”
Health experts said the failure to fully inform the public of the threat posed by the virus meant the U.S. lost valuable time.
“Clearly, he admits that this was airborne, a respiratory illness,” said Kavita Patel, a primary care physician and health policy expert who served in the Obama White House in an interview with MSNBC. “I think about how much we fumbled, even myself in the beginning, with recommending that people not wear masks. First we thought, no, we don’t want to take away masks from medical personnel. Now we have studies that show that if we’d had widespread mask-wearing mandates, we could have reduced deaths by as much as 20% to even 50%.
“Some of the modeling coming out of the University of Washington reinforces that mask wearing and being outdoors can make that much of a difference,” she said.
A more strenuous effort early on in the pandemic would not just have saved lives, she said, but also helped the millions of people who are suffering longer term effects that doctors know little about, said Patel. “We do have the science, it did take us time and the president, he called this thing a hoax, but now we know better,” she said.
Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said he was shocked by Trump’s comments.
“As a physician, it just doesn’t ring true to have that moment even occur. When we have a patient who has a problem we tell them the truth about it. We say here is the situation, here is the prognosis, here are your options, whether its good new or bad news. We have to trust people with the information so they can make a choice that’s good for them.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted that her husband Derek Bottoms, a vice president of employment practices and associate relations at Home Depot, continues to suffer the side effects of his bout with COVID-19:
The U.S. counted another 33,201 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,176 new fatalities. The U.S. leads the world by cases, at 6.36 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On a per capita basis, the U.S. has 54.72 deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world, after Peru, Spain and Brazil, the data shows.
In other news:
• The World Health Organization said the number of cases in the Middle East from Morocco to Pakistan has climbed above two million, and has more than doubled since July 1.
Iran has the most cases at more than 393,000 cases, followed by Saudi Arabia with more than 320,000, Pakistan with 299,855 and Iraq with 273,821.
• The French government is gearing up to announce new COVID-19 measures on Friday, the Guardian reported. France recorded its second highest number of new cases on Wednesday at more than 8,557, with the country’s scientific committee created to manage the crisis warning that the government ““will be forced to take a certain number of difficult decisions … in the next 8-10 days at most,” the paper reported. The head of the committee Jean-Francois Delfraissy said France is now at a “worrying level,” and is “not far behind Spain with a lag of maybe two weeks, and much more severe than Italy.”