No president is immune to his own COVID-19 policy

The French philosopher Joseph de Maistre once said that every country has the government it deserves. Likewise, maybe every American president gets the COVID-19 infection. he deserved.

OK, “merit” might be a strong word. While de Maistre, an anti-Enlightenment intellectual who believed in the divine right of kings as the most stable form of government, would likely endorse the pathogen concept as a karmic enhancement, we here at FiveThirtyEight believe that a case of COVID is nobody’s punishment for nothing.

But, maybe it’s a little less true if you decide which choices are available to everyone. The news this week that President Biden had been diagnosed with COVID got me thinking about how an American President can set the stage for his own infection through his decisions regarding pandemic policy. If anyone in this country has ever had a case of COVID because of their own mistakes, it’s Biden and Donald Trump. It’s almost as if each man’s illness is a microcosm of the larger way he chose to approach the virus – and how those choices affected everyone else in the country he ruled.

Trump likely contracted his infection via a cavalier approach to holiday planning — by hosting a largely unmasked rally at a time in the pandemic when vaccines were not yet available. On September 26, 2020, the then President hosted a Rose Garden event to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Case numbers in Washington, DC, were low at the time, but it was a party full of hugs and handshakes — and it kicked off a superspreader event that likely infected not just the president and the first lady, but also several members of Congress, White House staff, members of the media and a whole litany of government and campaign workers.

Trump ended up in the hospital with a case so severe he was nearly put on a ventilator and given virtually every drug doctors could think of to treat COVID – a mix of dexamethasone, remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies. Throughout the ordeal, Trump’s wide-ranging public policy choices — mocking and rejecting masks and other means of preventing transmission, downplaying the severity of COVID risks, promising a miracle would happen and doing disappear the virus, etc. – were reflected in his. live.

But while President Biden approached the pandemic in a very different way from President Trump, he too made a series of choices that set the stage for his own infection. If the general theme of Trump’s approach to COVID was to close our eyes and hope the pandemic couldn’t see it if he couldn’t see it, the general theme of the approach of Biden has been to define a collective disaster as just another personal matter. responsibility.

The administration thought it had a quick fix, going so far as to declare July 4, 2021 to be a celebration of being COVID-free. They were so certain that individual vaccinations would be enough that they canceled federal mask mandates in May 2021 on the assumption that if you did the right thing and got vaccinated, you would be fine. Even though delta, omicron, and several omicronlets proved this theory wrong, Biden’s policy continued to focus primarily on vaccinating and stimulating more Americans. Other policy options that could prevent the spread – ventilation requirements, collecting reliable data on the number of cases, masking during periods of high transmission, obtaining vaccines in other countries where the virus is still spreading unchecked – have been largely overlooked.

The result is an America where COVID continues to mutate, waves of disease continue to arrive, and the most vulnerable populations remain isolated, trapped, and dying. We have an America where we take COVID seriously but not literally. We have an America where even the most responsible and well-protected Americans are almost guaranteed to contract COVID eventually.

Even a president who trusts science.

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