The Trump administration’s resistance to contact tracing since the president tested positive for Covid-19 reflects a calculation that there’s little political upside in highlighting this close to the election the number of people at the pinnacle of US power potentially exposed to the virus by him, say health experts and political analysts.
Masks and contact tracing – used effectively in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and elsewhere – are proven tools in breaking the chain of infection in lieu of a vaccine, medical experts say. But their success can depend on many other factors.
Public health experts have traditionally focused on the profile of the virus and therapies to combat it.
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“But it turns out the most important thing in fighting it seems to be effective political leadership, and in the US we don’t have that,” said Ronald Waldman, a global health professor at George Washington University and former investigator at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “If your primary priority is getting elected, that’s great for the virus.”
Analysts say President Donald Trump and aides appears to have concluded that robust tracing of hundreds, even thousands, placed at risk by his inner circle would only spotlight the virulence of a disease he has repeatedly downplayed, claimed would disappear or decried as a hoax.
It also could highlight his controversial policies and behaviour, and the particular vulnerability of top Republicans central to his legacy and re-election effort, they add, hardly a good look for a president losing support in the polls.
“From the White House point of view, it probably doesn’t make sense to pursue contact tracing,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll. “A stricter testing regime risks showing second- and third-order infections. That’s not something you want to expose.”
Who in Trump’s orbit tested positive for coronavirus
But the president’s doctors’ and spin doctors’ apparent disregard for the basics of crisis management – disclose bad news fast and fully – has have been badly undercut by a drumbeat of daily headlines detailing new infections and quarantines hitting the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, presidential press corps and Secret Service.
Among the latest, the US Marine Corps’ No 2 general, Gary Thomas, said on Thursday that he had tested positive after huddling with top military leaders a week earlier.
This drip drip of news not only ensures that public attention remains intently focused on Trump’s management of the disease until the November 3 election. It also hampers the ability of top advisers to carry out policy or craft damage control as