During one of my interviews with Dennis Sionson, a 57-year-old Navy veteran whose prolonged bout with coronavirus had deprived him of basic life functions, he recalled an acutely frustrating experience. At one point in his rehab, he flicked on the TV for an escape from his compromised condition. Instead, he watched a man ridicule it. An interviewee on the screen said he didn’t care if he contracted the virus, nonchalantly neglecting the suffering of so many, of Dennis. “It’s a serious thing,” the Oak Harbor resident repeatedly told me. “You don’t want to have this.”
I thought about Dennis as I viewed president Donald Trump’s foolish disavowal of coronavirus last night, this one filmed at the White House after Trump’s premature departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “I learned so much about coronavirus, and one thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you,” Trump says in the video. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it.”
Before getting into this latest virus disinformation, a brief recap of the past several days for those who spent them basking in the glow of larch season or binging Sue Bird highlights (smart, you): The president was admitted to the hospital on Friday following a fever spike and oxygen dip brought on by a confirmed case of Covid-19. With an army of white lab coats at his beck and call (“All the President’s Doctors,” Twitter quipped), Trump received doses of antiviral drug remdesivir, the steroid dexamethasone, and an antibody cocktail, among other treatments. By Sunday he felt well enough (and bored enough) to wave at his supporters during a joy ride that endangered Secret Service members. By Monday, he deemed himself capable of a return to plaguing the White House.
Though Trump essentially declared victory over the virus in his taped address, his condition could still take a turn for the worse in the coming days; his speech was more campaign chimera than prognosis. But that's beside the point. One person’s case of Covid-19 should never be anyone’s litmus test for the severity of a virus that has already affected millions of people. Despite what the president says, many have not beaten coronavirus, including more than 2,000 victims here in Washington. And once infected, most people cannot count on the medical attention that Trump garnered to remedy its wrath.
It’s true that most of the population won't suffer the very worst effects of Covid-19. The caution of the majority, however, can significantly alter the fates of those at risk. “Covid-19 is a serious disease that is easily spread,” state secretary of health John Wiesman said in response to Trump yesterday, one of many local officials to condemn the president's remarks. “We shouldn’t fear it; we should protect ourselves from it. Wear your mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands. These are the basic facts.”
Trump nemesis Jay Inslee chimed in with a more direct criticism of POTUS. “The president’s reckless comments reflect exactly the same nonsense thinking behind his failed pandemic response that increased the risk of Covid, a virus that has caused 210,000 deaths in the United States already—and hundreds more each day," the governor said. "He hasn’t learned a thing."
Yet, as inaccurate and misleading as Trump’s words are, they don’t represent the greatest threat to Covid-19 deterrence here in Seattle, where the president's message has never resonated. No, that would be complacency. So far, we've managed to mount a formidable response to the disease. A report from the mayor’s office on Monday found that Seattle may have the lowest coronavirus case prevalence of any major American city, at just 7.4 cases per 100,000 people (some health departments don’t generate city-level figures, The Seattle Times's FYI Guy, Gene Balk, points out).
It’s a number to cheer, certainly, but not a valid reason to let up on social distancing or mask wearing. Confirmed Covid-19 infections in King County are “back on the rise,” King County Board of Health chair Joe McDermott noted yesterday. And with the potential for a “twindemic” of Covid-19 and influenza as the weather gets colder, we could easily fall victim to celebrating too soon and thus drawing an unfortunate comparison to you-know-who. "We had 40 percent more diagnosed cases in our county last week over the week before," says McDermott. "This is alarming and should reinforce our commitment as a community to take active steps, informed by science, to slow the transmission of this deadly virus."