The highest levels of government minimized the threat and spread misinformation.
The Trump administration initially dismissed the pandemic as a hoax, compared it to the seasonal flu, asserted that the problem was under control, blamed rising case numbers on increased testing, and declared that one day the virus would “magically” disappear, perhaps when the weather got warmer, even though cases had been reported in the Southern Hemisphere when it was experiencing its summer. Southern states such as California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida would later become major sources of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths despite high summer temperatures. The administration’s efforts to minimize the pandemic made it more difficult to rally support for public health measures to contain its spread.
In addition to minimizing the threat posed by Covid-19, the administration actively promoted the use of a drugs which had never been tested for safety and efficacy when used to treat Covid-19. The President also floated the idea of using bleach and ultraviolet light within the human body, comments which exposed the administration to so much criticism that it suspended the President’s daily press briefings on the pandemic for months. These briefings were not revived until late July, when the President’s poll numbers were tanking and cases of Coronavirus were surging.
On repeated occasions, the President touted the benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, rhetorically asking people what did they have to lose? The answer, very simply, was their lives, and some people did, in fact, die after self-medicating themselves. Although chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine had been used for many years to treat malaria, when President Trump started talking about these drugs, no clinical trials had ever been conducted to determine their safety and efficacy when used to treat Covid-19, even though it was well known that these drugs could cause heart problems and even death. Results from a large VA study, however, indicated that the drugs showed little or no benefit in treating Covid-19 and that there was an increased mortality among the test group.
In late July, the President retweeted a video where Stella Immanuel, a doctor from Texas, proclaimed that people did not have to worry about reopening businesses and schools or wearing masks because there was a cure for Covid-19: hydroxychloroquine, the medicine touted by the President, the medicine he claimed he had taken himself as a preventive measure. By this time, his own administration had withdrawn its emergency approval of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, and the WHO had halted a study of the drug because its findings showed that hydroxychloroquine did not reduce mortality in hospitalized Covid-19 patients. At the same time he was promoting a video by a woman who believed in witches and spontaneous pregnancies, the President was attacking the credibility and reputation of Anthony Fauci, one of the leading experts on infectious disease in his administration.
The federal government failed to provide a unified and coordinated response to the crisis, leaving states and localities to fend for themselves.
In the early days of the pandemic, procurement of testing supplies, personal protective equipment and ventilators was largely left to the states, forcing them to bid against each other, other countries, and even the federal government, driving up prices. Abandoned by the federal government, some states actually formed regional associations to deal with the crisis, basically reinventing the federal government on a regional level. “Blue States” controlled by Democrats were even played off against “Red States” controlled by Republicans. During discussions about providing federal aid to help states and localities deal with the virus, Mitch McConnell said that the Congress should not pay for financial crises caused by the mismanagement of Democrats, which prompted New York’s governor to point out that Blue States basically subsidized Red States, because Blue States paid more in federal taxes than they got back, and the situation was reversed for Red States. At the same time that the President laid responsibility for dealing with the virus at the feet of governors, he exhorted them to reopen their schools and businesses even when they did not feel it was safe to do so.