Oct 7, 2020 - Health

The cost of Washington's coronavirus failures

Illustration of a high striker with a thermometer instead of a strength meter.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus is already making the pandemic worse in his own backyard, and the failure to reach a deal on a new round of stimulus will likely make it worse all across the country, for months.

Why it matters: Heading into the winter months without a new round of stimulus in place will leave vulnerable workers without a financial safety net if they get sick — and because of that, experts say, it will likely make the pandemic itself worse.

The reasons are simple: If you can’t afford to miss work, and if there’s no temporary aid to make it feasible for you to miss work, then you’ll keep going to work — even if you’re infected. Those workers will infect others, and the virus will spread from there.

Driving the news: Trump tweeted yesterday that he has directed his administration to pause stimulus negotiations until after the election, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "not negotiating in good faith."

  • “No doubt about it, the failure to pass this will make it much harder to contain the virus in the fall, and that means we will see larger outbreaks, more people getting sick,” Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University school of public health, told Axios last month.

Washington’s failure to put together a new stimulus package will disproportionately hurt the low-wage, front-line workers, most of them Black or Hispanic, who have borne the brunt of this entire pandemic.

  • On a smaller scale, those workers are already suffering for another of political Washington’s mistakes: the growing outbreak emanating from the White House.

Where it stands: In addition to Trump and many of his senior advisers, the White House outbreak has sickened housekeepers, military aides and reporters. Secret Service agents have also been put at risk.

  • As with any outbreak, there’s a clear concern that it could keep spreading. One reporter has infected his spouse, and if West Wing staff were as careless in their personal lives as they were at work, any number of servers, store clerks, neighbors and friends may have been exposed.
  • D.C. had done a relatively good job keeping new cases under control, but now they’re at their highest level in months, threatening the city’s plans to reopen schools.

At the Capitol, which has no formal testing regimen, 123 front-line workers have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, Roll Call reports. There, too, the burden has fallen on people just doing their jobs, including a total of 46 Capitol Police officers.

The bottom line: Official Washington is making this worse.

  • In the immediate term, the Trump administration’s carelessness is now fueling a bigger outbreak, and over the next few months, the failure to provide some financial lifeline will likely force some working people into an impossible choice between their health and their livelihoods.
Go deeper