For five days in October 2020, when then-president Donald Trump was beset with COVID-19, top administration officials scrambled to secure experimental treatments to save his life while at the same time playing down the seriousness of his illness.
“Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History” by the Washington Post’s Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb, reveals new insights into exactly how sick Trump was with the virus. It also chronicles how Trump and his advisers wasted a golden opportunity to change the arc of his administration’s response to the pandemic and potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Since coronavirus had been declared a pandemic in March 2020, Trump and his aides consistently downplayed the seriousness of the situation with unsubstantiated predictions that the virus would “disappear” in the warm weather of the Spring and become nothing more than a nuisance as people enjoyed the outdoors in the summer. His cavalier attitude, reflected in the mask-less campaign rallies and other “superspreader” events he insisted on holding at the White House and elsewhere, was the determining factor in him contracting the disease just one month before last year’s election.
When he became ill, administration officials were in a panic to develop a treatment plan for Trump, who was 74 years of age, rarely exercised and was morbidly obese, was in the highest risk category for potentially dying from the disease. Just a few hours after his tweet disclosing that he and first lady Melania Trump had coronavirus infections, Trump began a rapid spiral downward as his fever spiked and his blood oxygen level plummeted. He was put on oxygen and given a choice: either walk out of the White House on his own and go to Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center on that Saturday morning or risk having to be wheeled out later that day.
Trump’s brush with severe illness and the prospect of death caught the White House so unprepared that they had not even briefed Vice President Mike Pence on a plan to swear him in if Trump became incapacitated. After being treated with monoclonal antibodies, remdesivir and the powerful steroid dexamethasone Trump staged his dramatic return to the White House.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Trump’s other medical advisers had hoped that his close encounter with COVID-19 would inspire him to take the virus seriously and encourage his supporters to do the same. Instead, Trump emerged from the experience triumphant and ever more defiant. He told people not to be afraid of the virus or let it dominate their lives, disregarding that he had had access to health care and treatments unavailable to other Americans.
It was, several advisers told The Washington Post, the last chance to turn the response around. And once the opportunity passed, it was the point of no return.