President Trump is the most recent in a long line of country leaders to fall victim to infection by SARS-Cov-2. The most notable include the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who came with an angel’s breath of dying in an intensive care ward, Brazil’s President Jair Bolosonaro, Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko and a scattering of others around the world. Notably absent from this tally are President Xi Jiping of China and President Vladamir Putin of Russia. Both are infection-free and likely to remain so for very different reasons.
President Xi and other Chinese high officials are unlikely to be infected as long as they remain China. Unique among the great nations China has virtually eliminated the virus its borders. Sporadic outbreaks involving no more than ten to twenty people still occur, mostly due to repatriated citizens. These outbreaks are quickly contained using the same methods used to halt the original epidemic. The Chinese leaders and the entire population of 1.4 billion people now live without fear of infection.
China’s example shows that humanity can defeat the virus by public health measures alone, without the benefit of effective vaccines or drugs. China has no magic bullet that other countries lack. The infections raging throughout most of the rest of the world are a consequence of failed policies, government inaction, and resistance of the populations to effective pandemic control measures. The world’s collective blindness to China’s accomplishments in eliminating Covid is close to incomprehensible.
The reasons Vladimir Putin faces no danger from infection are radically different. Putin presides over a country with a raging infection much like that of President Trump. According to Russian sources, the pandemic in Russia reached an early peak in mid-May, decreased modestly over the summer, and is once again rampant, despite the “approval” of an anti-Covid vaccine in early August. According to the best reporting available Putin remains in the world’s most secluded bubble. He conducts all his business virtually, remaining isolated in a private Dacha outside of Moscow. He meets very few people personally and then only after that person has been in single isolation for fourteen days and has tested negative for infection. Putin’s own protective measures belie his public statements that the average Russian citizen faces no danger from the coronavirus.
Trump’s America continues to lead the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths. To date, more than 7.3 million Americans have been infected and more than 206,000 have died. Daily Covid-19 cases reached an early peak of between twenty-five to 30,000 per day in April and never decreased much below twenty thousand per day in the late spring and early summer, only to rise sharply to a high of 75,000 in mid-August. After a modest decrease to about 45,000 thousand a day Covid-19infections are once again on the rise in the United States. Yesterday more than 53,000 Americans were reported as infected. Covid related deaths hover bout 1,000 per day and are on the rise once again.
The pandemic in the United Staes is widespread. Despite the President’s claims that the blue states fare worse than the red, the highest rates of daily infection, as measured in cases per 100,000, are in the Dakotas, 53 in North Dakota, 49 in South Dakota, and in Wisconsin (44), where Trump was planning a large rally, and Montana (31). For comparison, the average number of new cases per day in the United States is 13. Deaths per 100,000 closely mirror infection rates being highest in North and South Dakota and Wisconsin. The death rate along with the infection rate is increasing across the country. All of the above numbers are official and may substantially underrepresent the actual toll.
How then could President Trump and his entourage avoid infection? Only by closely observing the protective measures recommended by his own administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the President’s own Covid Task Force. Despite these recommendations, the President and almost all others in the administration close to him refused to follow the recommended guidelines, including the obligatory wearing of masks, maintaining six feet distance for all others, limiting indoor gatherings to a few people for short periods with attending all wearing masks, limiting the size of outdoor gatherings and insisting on masks and social distancing even outdoors. All these precautions were not observed and in fact, publicly defied. The President himself and members of his close circle mocked those who followed the recommended precautions including the protective actions of his rival for the Presidency. How could he and his team not have been infected while traveling thought the country, especially to those areas of the country with the highest know rates of infection?
What has happened to Trump, his infection and illness were an obvious consequence of his own actions. As he is our President and a fellow human we must all hope for a speedy recovery. But we cannot offer such hope to the more than two hundred thousand Americans who have died and the hundreds of thousands more who may die before Trump’s American pandemic draws to close. The tragedy is not in his infection but in his failure to act on what he knew the disease to be early on, that Covid-19 is a highly contagious airborne infection with lethal potential.
Trump’s life may be spared by heroic medical intervention, as was Boris Johnson’s, but all of his fellow citizens must continue to live in fear. We must all face the personal and economic consequences of a pandemic that need not have happened. For decades and perhaps centuries people will ask if the Chinese with a vast population densely packed into megacities far larger than those of the United States could control the pandemic a drive it close to zero within a few months losing fewer than 5,000 lives, what went wrong in America? We as a people must now struggle to answer that question and act swiftly to bring Covid to a close using the tools that have been shown to work. If the President survives his inevitable meeting with a destiny of his own making, this must be his task and we must do all we can to help. If he does not the job is up to us.