The White House on Monday ordered all West Wing staff to wear masks at work, except when they are sitting at their own desks, according to New York Times.
US President Donald Trump has previously politicized masks, even suggesting to the public at one point they weren’t necessary. He has attempted to downplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US for his political goal of reelection.
In dealing with infectious respiratory diseases, wearing face masks prevents their spread – as is the case with pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
It is incomprehensible why the White House did not make an order to wear masks until Monday. However, the order came way too late.
As of Wednesday, there are over 1.36 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 82,000 deaths in the US alone. After having paid a huge cost, Washington has just now taken a simple step that should have been taken several months ago. If the US government had taken effective protective measures earlier, such as making wearing masks mandatory, both lives and the economy would have been spared.
This extremely delayed response exposes the total irresponsible attitude of the Trump administration.
What is more absurd is the White House’ mask order doesn’t apply to Trump, a self-described germaphobe. He will most likely not wear a mask at all.
In the face of this deadly public health crisis, why has Washington responded so poorly? One of the main causes was that Trump had failed to set a role model. As the president, he should have been fully aware of COVID-19 updates, its severity, and the most effective protective measures against it. Instead, he delivered a deluge of misleading messages that have even lead to the deaths of some of his most fanatical followers.
Lacking a full picture of this killer pandemic, ordinary Americans were not fully informed – and many acted normally in line with their president. Monkey see, monkey do. And that is what happened with Trump and his supporters – they failed to see the peril of the pandemic, refused to wear masks and carry out social isolation. These mounting difficulties and delays have hindered the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the world’s most powerful country.
If the US president had set an example to wear a mask, more Americans would have taken a cue to follow – and such a large number of cases may not have exploded.
Moreover, Trump’s refusal to wear face masks manifests that he may have not fully realized the pivotal role that facial protection plays in preventing the spread of the virus.
The White House is now pushing hard to restart the US economy. But the US has failed to effectively flatten the curve. When this country gradually resumes production and school routines, the spread of the virus will continue or even surge with more infected cases. Such being the case, it will be sad but not unthinkable if the total death toll exceeds 100,000 in the US some day in the near future.
The Trump administration could have done a lot more in controlling the outbreak – much more than merely forcing people to wear face masks. As such, now is not a proper time for the US to urge a large number of people to go back to offices, factories, or schools.
But Trump’s primary concern is not the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. His main concern is the stagnant economy and increasing unemployment rate, which will definitely affect his votes in the November election.
Besides, many US politicians are also urging the resumption of work. They simply want the almighty dollar instead of putting people’s lives and health prior to their personal political interests.
The author is deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University.
(In association Global Times)