For three years, critics of President Donald Trump have claimed that he arrogantly refuses to listen to his experts and that his exaggerated sense of self prevents him from accepting his limitations. Applying that narrative to Trump's initial failure to appreciate the gravity of the coronavirus, NBC host Chuck Todd recently asked former Vice President Joe Biden, "Do you think there is blood on the president's hands, considering the slow response? Or is that too harsh of a criticism?" Even Biden called the criticism a "little too harsh."
"A little too harsh?" Trump, neither a doctor nor a scientist, merely followed the advice given him from his medical experts. The problem is that a lot of the advice was vague, inconsistent, contradictory or flat-out wrong.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, has become a respected voice in explaining the coronavirus, what to expect from it and how we can fight it. Democrats and Republicans praise him and his dedicated service under six presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.
But his advice has been well short of perfect. On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a "pandemic." Before this declaration, what did Fauci say?
This is from a Jan. 21, 2020 interview with Newsmax:
Host: "Bottom line, we don't have to worry about this one, right?"
Fauci: "Well, you know, obviously, you need to take it seriously and do the kinds of things that the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security are doing. But this is not a major threat (emphasis added) for the people of the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about."
On Feb. 3, 2020, Fauci told CNBC: "It's still an evolving situation. We don't know exactly where it's going to go, what the pattern is. But clearly right now at least the number of cases are accelerating." And in late March 2020, William Haseltine, Ph.D., former professor at Harvard Medical School and distinguished researcher in biophysics and biomedicine, admitted: "Well, we know it's highly infectious, and as the days go by, we're learning it's more infectious than we thought it was, say, a month ago, even two weeks ago."
The medical experts' advice has also been inconsistent on whether nonmedical personnel with no symptoms should wear face masks in public. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently issued a directive to do so: "Out of an abundance of caution, this is what I'm saying to all New Yorkers: Take a scarf, take a bandanna, just anything you have at home, just cover your face if you're going to be in close contact with people who are not your own family under your own roof." The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, issued a similar directive.
But just days earlier, on March 26, the World Health Organization tweeted: "If you do not have any respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, or runny nose, you do not need to wear a medical mask. When used alone, masks can give you a false feeling of protection and can even be a source of infection when not used correctly." An April 7 Guardian article writes: "Prof David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the WHO's scientific and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, said that unless people were working in healthcare settings, masks are 'only for the protection of others, not for the protection of oneself.'"
Now, the WHO tweet referred to medical masks. But Howard Zucker, New York State's health commissioner, said there was "no clear evidence" that covering one's face in public would slow down the rate at which the disease spreads.
Similarly, the advice on whether one should wear gloves while grocery shopping has also been inconsistent. Some say it reduces the chance of transferring the virus from surface to humans. But Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel warned: "Gloves accumulate germs; gloves will accumulate viruses. You're going to not even realize when you touch something, then you have it on the gloves, then you transfer it to your face, then you can get infected. ... You can't change them frequently enough to make a difference, so I vote no on that one. Yes, on the continued hand-washing."
Bottom line, many medical experts were caught flat-footed or were slow to recognize the seriousness of this pandemic. China's repeated denials and outright lies about the likely origin of the coronavirus did not help. A study by the University of Southampton estimates that 95% of the cases in China could have been avoided had China begun early detection, isolation of cases, travel restrictions and sanitary cordoning three weeks earlier.
The fact that all of this translates to Trump having "blood on his hands" is yet another symptom — not of the coronavirus but of Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Larry Elder is a bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. His latest book, "The New Trump Standard," is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryElder. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.