The President of the United States has been hospitalized with COVID – What are the Lessons for us and What should we do?

Last night, the President and First Lady were diagnosed with COVID, and today, the President was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in an abundance of caution and for closer observation and monitoring.

Today, the President reportedly received at least one, and potentially two, therapies that are neither FDA-approved or authorized under compassionate use in order to do everything possible to help prevent the President’s illness from becoming more severe.

This is a time for the President to be hospitalized and quarantined and for the nation to reflect on where we are and what we need to do now.

  1. Unbelievably, after eight months, over 7 million cases of COVID in the US alone, more than 200,000 deaths of Americans, endless news coverage, numerous world leaders and celebrities infected, messages of acknowledgement of COVID by both major political parties, and acknowledgment of COVID by every medical, nursing and public health association or agency, there are still individuals calling COVID a hoax. This needs to stop. There was a time at the beginning of this pandemic where one might be excused for being suspicious of what was actually happening, but there can no longer be a justification for believing this to be a hoax other than willful ignorance or foolish denial.
  2. There has been a disturbing rejection of science and expertise that is dangerous and unfounded. Scientific advancements have saved lives and made our lives better. One need look no further than the improvements and efficiencies gained in farming and agriculture, the developments in computing, and the development of new medications and treatments. This rejection is not sincere; it is politically motivated. Before the President was infected, it was politically expedient for him to reject science and advice from leading experts. But, once infected, President Trump did not turn to Dr. Atlas, the highly controversial White House adviser for coronavirus; the MyPillow CEO who pitched an unproven COVID-19 cure of oleandrin made by a company in which he had a financial interest; nor to Dr. Stella Immanuel whose video asserting unbelievable and unsubstantiated claims about curing COVID President Trump retweeted with approval. Instead, he turned to the leading physicians and scientists in our country and the prestigious Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and to medications that were being scientifically studied when his own life was on the line. I suspect this would be true for the majority of those who are rejecting science and medicine. It is easy to deny science when it does not personally impact them or their family. However, in all my years of practice, I did not have a patient for whom I diagnosed a life-threatening condition in them or a loved one who did not want to take advantage of the best that science and medicine had to offer. So, let’s stop this. If you don’t want to follow the advice of experts, fine, don’t. But, own up to your decision and don’t cause confusion for others by trying to influence others to reject science and public health advice.
  3. Similarly, there are those who are promoting false and misleading information. I don’t know whether they understand the risks that poses to others or if they do not care. I hope it is the former. It is time for this to stop as well. In the most recent days, President Trump admitted that he had nothing against masks. However, he and his family did much to undermine the public health guidance on this. Mistakenly thinking that they were protected from COVID by the testing they get daily that most other Americans do not, it was easy to down-play the need for masks, which, after all, are a constant reminder that we are in a pandemic, but this has back-fired, resulting in exactly what the President did not want – significant increases in cases, deaths exceeding early projections, the closure of businesses, the loss of jobs and increasing unemployment, a huge hit to the economy, school closures and only a gradual re-opening and cancellation of some sports. It is time for us to stop perpetuating myths and unsubstantiated falsehoods and come together to reduce the spread of this virus, which is the best way to get back to some semblance of normalcy. So, if you are spreading this false and misleading information, please stop and realize that you are only making it more difficult to achieve the objectives you say you want.
  4. There are those suggesting that testing is our way out of this pandemic. There is no doubt that testing is important, but the White House indicates that the President was being tested every day, as was everyone coming into close contact with the President. It didn’t work because of the limitations of our current testing and because testing alone will never be able to control a pandemic – changing our behaviors and taking public health precautions will decrease our risk and slow down the transmission of the virus to the point where testing then can be a valuable tool in controlling the pandemic.
  5. Leadership matters. Leaders often are confronted with unpleasant, inconvenient, and on occasion, very difficult problems that can have a great impact on their organizations, customers, employees or communities, and great personal risk to the leader. In my experience, rarely do things turn out better by denying them, minimizing them, or avoiding them. Thus, I would always advise the leader to study the problem, seek out expert opinion, and then devise a plan to address the problem, realizing that you may learn more with time that will cause you to tweak your solution, you may discover that there are unintended consequences of your solution that will cause you to tweak your plan, or you may discover failings of your plan that cause you to change course. But, in this pandemic, I have seen numerous examples of leaders unwilling to come up with a plan or make a decision because they fear that no matter what they decide, someone will be unhappy with that decision. In some cases, that fear is amplified by potential loss of employment or failure to be reelected. On more than one occasion, I have given my advice to those leaders. If your assessment is that no matter what your decision, half of the people are going to be upset by it, then make the right decision – do the right thing, because if you are going to lose your job or not get reelected, at least be able to hold your head up when you apply for your next job or run for your next office, knowing that you did the right thing, and having history remember you for having done the right thing, rather than what you thought would please your most vocal critics. Keep in mind, those critics are not going to come to your defense when others now try to fire you or remove you from office because you did not do the right thing. Further, most potential employers are not going to want to hire someone who got fired for doing the wrong thing, and most of the electorate are probably not likely to support for office someone who history has shown mismanaged a major problem.

So, as our President fights this infection, let us fight the behaviors that have divided us and contributed to the spread of this virus. We can do it. If you don’t want to do it because it is the right thing, at least do it because the internet and social media will leave a lasting record of our words and deeds and history will judge us accordingly. It is time to restore the values of American exceptionalism and the spirit that when our country faces a challenge, we all roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to preserve our country, to protect our fellow countrymen, and to preserve the values of our democracy. God save our President and country and God bless America.

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