January 23, 2020, Miami. President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One at Miami International Airport after a one-day visit to Florida.
What I Heard About Covid-19
(After Eliot Weinberger)
In late January of 2020, during my sophomore year of high school, I heard Donald Trump, then President of the United States, say about the coronavirus: ‘We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.’
Two days later, I heard him thank President Xi on the behalf of the American people for China’s ‘efforts and transparency’ in containing the virus.
That same month, I heard President Trump’s Trade Advisor, Peter Navarro, had written in a memo: ‘The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on US soil.’
In early February 2020, I heard the president affirm: ‘We pretty much shut it down coming in from China’, and ‘Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.’
Nearly a month after the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the US, I heard the president say: ‘I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away…They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.’
The next day, at a news conference at the White House, I heard him say: ‘I think every aspect of our society should be prepared. I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up’, and ‘We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.’
I heard the president repeat that the virus would simply vanish. That ‘one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.’
In March 2020, I heard the president say: ‘Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. And the tests are beautiful.’
Eliot Weinberger (1949) is an American writer, editor and translator, known primarly for his essays on culture and politics. He frequently contributes to the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.
First published in 2005, his essay What I Heard About Iraq—a ‘montage of facts, sound bites and testimonies’—is considered to be one of the most influential voices of the antiwar movement in the wake of US 2003 invasion of Iraq.
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Walking between classes on a school day, I heard nearly 700 people had contracted the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and nine had died.
I heard the president respond: ‘I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.’
I heard then Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, say ‘Masks do not work for the general public and preventing them from getting coronavirus.’
On 9 March 2020, I heard the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had only administered 4,000 tests, a thousand times fewer than they had anticipated by that date.
On 11 March 2020, I heard the World Health Organization (WHO) had classified the coronavirus as a pandemic.
The next day, I heard Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say: ‘The system is not really geared to what we need right now…That is a failing. Let’s admit it.’
On the night of 13 March 2020, as I packed my flute away after performing for the school musical, I heard school had officially been cancelled for the next week.
On 15 March 2020, I heard the president say: ‘Relax.’ At the end of the same month, I heard the president say: ‘A lot of people are dying. So it's very unpleasant.’
On 23 March 2020, I heard my school would be closed indefinitely.
I heard the president say: ‘We inherited a broken test. The whole thing was broken and we rebuilt it.’
In April, watching the news from my mom’s work laptop in the kitchen, I heard the president address states’ pleas for medical supplies: ‘The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.’
I heard Laura Ingraham, host of The Ingraham Angle on Fox News, compare coronavirus treatment to HIV treatment and question why the virus would not just disappear.
I heard Dr. Fauci respond: ‘The degree of efficiency of transmissibility of this is really unprecedented in anything that I’ve seen […] those kinds of viruses don’t just disappear.’
I heard the president suggest a cure for the virus that entailed hitting the body with a ‘tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light.’
I heard the president also suggest: ‘I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.’
Four days later, after an influx of poison control calls nationwide, I heard the president say: ‘I can’t imagine why.’
February 16, 2020, Los Angeles. President Donald J. Trump disembarks Air Force One at LAX during his travel to California.
In May, I heard the president allude once again to a vaccine: ‘I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines.’ That same day, I also heard him say: ‘The virus will pass, with or without a vaccine.’
I heard Tucker Carlson say on Fox News: ‘Many other politicians […] loved this pandemic—this tragedy—every sad minute of it. It made them feel indispensable, omnipotent, like gods. They desperately don’t want it to end.’
I heard the president say: ‘This is going to go away without a vaccine. We are not going to see it again.’
I heard the president promote an anti-malaria drug to prevent coronavirus infection: ‘I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago, I started taking it. Cause I think it’s good, I’ve heard a lot of good stories.’
I might even have Googled ‘hydroxychloroquine’.
While studying in lockdown for my AP Human Geography exam, I heard the president praise his administration’s coronavirus response: ‘We have met the moment and we have prevailed.’
I heard the president describe the surplus of cases as ‘a badge of honor,’ because it meant ‘our testing is much better.’
On 29 May 2020, I heard the United States would be terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization.
In June, I heard Dr. Stephen Hahn, then Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), say: ‘There’s been a proliferation of information and misinformation on the internet and in other sources. Consumers need to understand that this virus is still with us, and that we as individuals and communities working together need to take the steps to continue to contain its spread.’
I heard the FDA had revoked its approval for hydroxychloroquine, because the treatment was ‘unlikely to be effective.’
I heard Peter Lurie, former FDA Associate Commissioner for Public Health Strategy and Analysis, comment that the president was prepared to ‘put political expediency ahead of scientific expertise.’
I heard the president state that ‘testing is a double-edged sword,’ and that he had told his team to ‘slow the testing down, please.’
I heard the president refer to Covid-19 as the ‘China Virus.’
I heard the US had 25% of global coronavirus cases, despite making up only 4% of the global population.
In July, I read a tweet from the president, raising concerns about sabotage in the 2020 Election: ‘The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November election, but it is important for the children & families.’
I heard the Surgeon General change his opinion on the efficacy of masks and remark, ‘When we learn better, we do better.’
I heard Ted Cruz, a US Senator for Texas, say: ‘If it ends up that Biden wins in November…I guarantee you, the week after the election suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors, will say, “Everything is magically better. Go back to work, go back to school.” Suddenly, the problems are solved.’
I heard the president had tweeted: ‘We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases.’
On 12 August 2020, the day I received the schedule for my virtual Junior year, I heard the US report the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities in a single day since mid-May.
I heard the president reiterate his claims about the election, asserting that the FDA was ‘hoping to delay the answer [about a vaccine] until after November 3rd.’
On 31 August 2020, I heard over six million Americans had tested positive for the coronavirus. I also heard the president claim: ‘This is nobody's fault but China.’
I heard when asked how concerned he was about coronavirus at his political rallies, the president told a reporter: ‘I’m on a stage, it’s very far away, so I’m not at all concerned.’
I heard then CDC Director, Robert Redfield, announce that for the vaccine to be ‘fully available to the American public…we are probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.’
I heard the president respond: ‘I think [Redfield] made a mistake when he said that. . . . We’re ready to distribute immediately to a vast section of the country.’
In late September, as I sat at a makeshift school desk in my room doing calculus homework, I heard the president remark: ‘Take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody.’
I heard the president announce: ‘By the way, open your schools everybody, open your schools.’
I heard the president contradict the CDC, saying: ‘vaccines are coming, and they’re coming fast.’
On 29 September 2020, I heard the president assert: ‘so far we have had no problem whatsoever,’ referring to the number of coronavirus cases at his election rallies.
January 4, 2021, Washington D.C. Donald J. Trump and Ivanka Trump board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.
On 2 October 2020, I heard the president and first lady had tested positive for coronavirus.
I heard over a dozen staff and aides had tested positive as well.
Three days later, I heard the president say: ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid.’
Exactly ten days after the president had tested positive for Coronavirus, I heard him announce at a rally: ‘I went through it. Now, they say I’m immune. I can feel—I feel so powerful.’ I heard him say ‘I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience.’
I heard the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, say: ‘WHO recommends case finding, isolation, testing, compassionate care, contact tracing, quarantine, physical distancing, hand hygiene, masks, respiratory etiquette, ventilation, avoiding crowds and more […] The answer is a comprehensive approach, using every tool in the toolbox.’
While attempting to study Mandarin, I fell down a rabbit hole of current news and once again heard the president claim ‘it’s China’s fault. They allowed this to happen.’
I heard the president say: ‘If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression. Instead we’re like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers.’
I heard Donald Trump Jr. say: ‘The number is almost nothing […] We’ve gotten control of this thing.’
I heard at the beginning of October the US was averaging around 40,000 cases a day. By the end of the month the average had risen to over 80,000 a day.
I heard the president assert, ‘Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid.’
I heard the president dispute doctors’ attribution of deaths to coronavirus by saying: ‘when in doubt, choose Covid.’
I heard the president accuse Joe Biden of ‘promising to delay the vaccine and turn America into a prison state,’ while ‘far-left rioters roam free.’
I heard the president attempt to stoke fears about a potential Biden presidency, saying: ‘The Biden Lockdown will mean no school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no Fourth of July.’
On 30 December 2020, I heard only about two million people had been vaccinated—18 million less than the Trump administration had planned on by that date.
In January, after President Biden was sworn in, I heard Trump’s term in office had coincided with more than 25 million confirmed coronavirus cases, over 400,000 of which resulted in fatalities.
In March 2021, when asked about how effective a vaccination campaign led by former President Trump would be, I heard Dr. Fauci say: ‘Chris, I think it would make all the difference in the world […] I’m very surprised at the high percentage of Republicans who say they don’t want to get vaccinated. I don’t understand where that’s coming from. This is not a political issue. This is a public health issue.’
On 7 April 2021, I heard 16 year olds like myself were now eligible to get a vaccine.
In May 2021 I heard the CDC say vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks indoors: ‘Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing.’
On 13 May 2021, I heard President Biden declare ‘victory over the virus’: ‘If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile — with a smile.’
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In June, I heard what Yale Medicine had reported about the Delta variant: ‘The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates, and virtually all hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated.’ I heard they had also concluded that Delta was unique in that ‘vaccinated people also can transmit Delta.’
In July 2021, I heard the CDC revert to recommending masks should be worn indoors, even by the fully vaccinated.
I heard Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, say: ‘We can halt the chain of transmission. We can do something if we unify together, if we get people vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated, if we mask in the interim–we can halt this in just a matter of a couple of weeks.’
In August 2021, in The Atlantic I read Sarah Zhang’s description of how coronavirus would eventually transition from pandemic to endemic: ‘it won’t be eliminated, but it won’t upend our lives anymore.’
Today I heard coronavirus is here to stay.