Republicans face the consequences of denying science

GOP leaders reckon with COVID-19 outbreaks yet keep ignoring preventions

October 3, 2020 1:19 pm

Marine One, with President Donald Trump onboard, leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 2, 2020 in Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for coronavirus. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

If America feels like an Amtrak barreling down the tracks with the brake line cut, rest assured you’re not alone.

The silence has been deafening — no one seems to want to say it outright. Perhaps it feels uncouth to acknowledge a COVID-19 outbreak at the White House was preventable while the president lies in a hospital bed. Perhaps it feels brash to directly point out that attending events or flying on jets without masks and physical distancing was wildly irresponsible amid a global pandemic. And perhaps it’s exceptionally blunt to note that based on many months of Republican leaders ignoring scientists, the series of events unfolding are both astounding and yet completely predictable.

I suppose facts don’t much cater to public sensitivities.


To be exceptionally clear, I wouldn’t wish coronavirus (or any virus) on my worst enemy. Every case is bad for America and our recovery from this horrendous pandemic. I absolutely wish for the speedy recovery of everyone affected by the virus, including President Trump, his wife and their fellow Republicans. No one deserves this kind of suffering. But all that being true, I can still recognize there is absolutely nothing surprising about what is happening — scientists said it would.

I probably wouldn’t feel the need to risk emotional upset and say it aloud if it didn’t affect the lives of millions of Americans. But it does, so I will. There is absolutely no coincidence that America makes up 4% of the world’s population yet 25% of coronavirus cases. It’s because we’ve failed to follow best practices recommended by experts. Under Trump, we’ve flouted science with nearly 210,000 Americans already paying the ultimate price. That’s just shy of three packed-to-the-gills Bronco stadiums.

It’s easy to see how this was possible.

As of now, the outbreak impacting Republicans appears to be turning toward Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination ceremony. The outdoor event took place on the White House lawn exactly one week ago. The event organizers, who reportedly provided testing to guests, subsequently (and falsely) advised attendees that masks and physical distancing were not necessary. Photos show the recommendation was heeded, with roughly 100 Republican attendees sitting side-by-side, mingling, hugging and even kissing — mostly mask-less.


At last Tuesday’s presidential debate, a mere three days after Barrett’s ceremony, debate rules required both candidates to test negative for COVID-19 prior to entering the venue. This led to a series of rational speculations, from myself included, that the pre-debate COVID-19 test for Trump must have read a false negative — which can happen, as seen at Barrett’s ceremony. This served as a good reminder to the American public that testing cannot work in isolation. However, these rational sentiments were shattered on Friday afternoon when moderator Chris Wallace dropped the bombshell: Trump’s team arrived too late to the debate venue and were therefore not tested, citing the “honor system.” 

How anyone suspects a virus will adhere to an “honor system” is beyond comprehension. Better yet, how Trump of all people was permitted to operate on an honor system is positively ludicrous. This blatant breaking of debate rules affects real people. We won’t yet know for sure if Wallace and former Vice President Joe Biden will test positive for the virus — to date, Biden has tested negative — but we do know that at least 11 people associated with the debate already have.


As if that weren’t enough, shortly thereafter Trump attended a Republican fundraiser after knowing he had been exposed to COVID-19. Now dozens of GOP donors are “freaking out” about the possibility of contracting the virus.

It’s bad enough to deliberately risk infection among your own ranks, but Republican leaders continue to put the American public at risk.

Preventable, and the height of irresponsibility.

The ongoing handling of the situation is frankly shameful. It’s bad enough to deliberately risk infection among your own ranks, but Republican leaders continue to put the American public at risk. Attorney General Bill Barr refuses to quarantine after known COVID-19 exposure. Vice President Mike Pence insists on holding an in-person campaign event despite known exposures. Another three Republican Minnesota congressmen — all with known exposure — recently broke Delta Airlines’ policy of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period after exposure before flying, putting passengers at risk.

All preventable. If the president being remitted to a hospital bed for days doesn’t highlight the gravity of the situation, I don’t know what it will take. 

Perhaps the most outlandish thing of all are the conspiracy theories from both the political left and the right. A reflection of the times, it seems. Outsized figures like film director Michael Moore have helped to propagate the conspiracy that Trump’s diagnosis is fake. On the right, several lesser known figures claim conspiracies raising questions why only Republicans are catching the virus, a patently false and ironic statement (perhaps if they wore a damn mask and kept their distance, they wouldn’t).

What should be a hard lesson learned on viral transmission is turning into nothing more than politics-as-usual. No prominent Republican leaders are stepping forward to remind the American people why the virus is serious, and why masks, physical distancing and testing should be increased. None have sought to chart a new course, instead trudging down a path of continued ignorance — we can’t even get reliable medical updates on the president’s condition.

For now, Trump remains at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It’s impossible to know the outcome. Whatever happens, if Republican leaders don’t change their actions, Americans will keep dying. Facts are facts.

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Trish Zornio
Trish Zornio

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation's top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.