New Simulations Show How Donald Trump Let Hundreds of Thousands of Americans Die of COVID-19
Former President Donald Trump’s willful failure to protect the American public from the COVID-19 pandemic led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, according to a paper submitted to the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity conference on Wednesday.
In “Behavior and the dynamics of epidemics,” Professor Andrew Atkeson of the University of California Los Angeles found that predictions by epidemiologists (scientists who study the spread of disease) in the early days of the crisis correctly forecasted that the proliferation of the coronavirus “will not resolve until high proportions of the population have acquired immunity either through infection or vaccination.”
Trump infamously and repeatedly claimed that COVID-19 was a Chinese hoax and for months encouraged the population to ignore safety guidelines that were laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health organizations.
Numerous Trump Administration officials and Republican politicians – particularly in states such as Florida, North Dakota, Iowa, and Texas – have unapologetically toed that line as well.
Had Trump’s catastrophic misguidance gone unchecked, Atkenson writes, fatalities would have climbed into the millions:
Without a vaccine or cure for the virus and without disease-control measures such as masking, social distancing, testing, and contact tracing, the model predicts deaths would have soared in the first six to nine months of the pandemic, cumulating to 1.5 million.
And while the introduction of vaccines will continue to significantly reduce the virus’s mortality rate, Atkeson cautions that personal behavior still has an enormous impact on how much damage COVID-19 can do:
Adding disease-control measures to the model slows the spread of the virus. However, behavior offsets their effect. As deaths and cases decline, authorities relax economically costly measures such as business lockdowns, and ‘pandemic fatigue’ causes many people to become less cautious. That produces a more drawn-out pattern with waves of deaths, similar to what has actually occurred. Long-run deaths in this scenario, absent a vaccine or cure, total 1.27 million over two-and-a-half years.
Atkeson’s data also shows that lapses in social distancing and mask wearing have needlessly killed hundreds of thousands of people:
Factoring in the introduction in January 2021 of vaccines that protect half of Americans by June 1 reduces the death toll to 672,000. Effectively, disease-control measures, although periodically relaxed, buy time for the development of vaccines. Another simulation, which assumes that disease-control measures were imposed May 1, 2020 and not relaxed until vaccines are distributed, produces a death toll of only 292,000. (Actual U.S. deaths from COVID-19 through late-March total more than 540,000.) This simulation shows what could have been achieved by implementing more aggressive testing, tracing, and isolation while waiting for deployment of the vaccine.
As of this publication, 558,850 Americans have died of coronavirus, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Atkeson concludes that in order to avoid massive casualties in a future pandemic, substantial investments must be made in disease surveillance, infrastructure for vaccine development and distrubution, and contingencies that protect both economic and human health.
“Public efforts at disease control can save a lot of lives over the long run by controlling disease while we wait for a vaccine or a cure,” Atkeson tells The Brookings Institution. “We have a tremendous opportunity to learn from international experience with COVID on how to do that without tanking the economy.”