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OpinionEditorial

Critical moment for the nation

Pulmonologist Sean Dooley gives an update on the

Pulmonologist Sean Dooley gives an update on the condition of President Donald Trump Walter Reed Medical Center. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Our October surprise is here. And it has put our nation on edge.

President Donald Trump is being treated in a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus, and while his doctors said Saturday things are going well so far, no one knows how the leader of the free world will respond over time. The White House itself has become a COVID-19 hot spot, with a growing list of presidential advisers, aides, U.S. senators and first lady Melania Trump contracting the virus. The White House and other government leaders are rightly in crisis mode. And the election is 30 days away.

This would be a difficult moment for a healthy nation. We are not that. America is wracked by division, uncertainty and mistrust. We cannot allow those faults to continue to flourish and dictate our response. This is the time to put that aside and bridge our differences.

Some might want to call what's happened karma for a president who has downplayed the severity of the virus, mocked his election opponent and others for wearing masks to stop its spread, and pushed governors and educators to reopen businesses and schools more quickly. Some might want to call it a Greek tragedy for the way the president has been afflicted by his own approach to a highly contagious virus that has killed nearly 210,000 Americans. Neither would be wrong.

But far more important right now in terms of how history will categorize this era is that all of us — every single American — finally acknowledge the reality that Trump's condition has put into stark relief. The virus is on the rise in more than half of our states. More than 40,000 cases are still being reported daily and nearly 1,000 Americans are dying each day, more than six months into this crisis. We do not have this under control and we are nowhere close to turning the corner. No amount of bluster can obscure the seriousness of this plague any longer — not when the man who is at the center of what is supposed to be the most secure bubble in the world becomes a victim of COVID-19.

Now more than ever, we need to be able to trust each other that we are all doing the right thing and following medical protocols to tamp down the virus.

Now more than ever, we need to be able to trust our institutions to give us truthful information and reliable advice. Saturday's news conference by Trump's doctors, who were evasive about details and presented information at odds with the White House's timeline regarding when the president was diagnosed, was disturbing.

Now more than ever, we need the White House to be transparent and forthcoming — about the president's condition; about the source of the infection spreading through his inner circle and beyond; about the contact tracing and testing program it is conducting, which must be thorough; and about the Rose Garden event last weekend introducing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that might have been a super-spreader event.

And now more than ever, we need our other leaders to stop making political calculations and start doing what's best for the country.

Trump clearly deserves blame for his handling of the virus. But he himself is a symptom and an exploiter, not the cause, of the problems the nation had before the virus, problems that are exacerbating our current plight.

As Trump recovers, he must begin to deliver a different message to Americans about following science, not denying it, and about letting facts not grievances or election-year politics guide our response to the coronavirus. His enablers and sycophants in and out of the government must follow suit. Allowing Trump to go to a donor event on Thursday night — after top aide Hope Hicks had developed symptoms and was diagnosed with the virus, and after Trump himself had started not to feel well — and to allow the fundraiser to be largely a maskless event, was a terrible decision. And it wasn't until Friday that large numbers of White House staffers finally began to wear masks. We all must take note.

And if anyone in the top levels of government tests positive and is required to quarantine by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, he or she must do so and for the full amount of time, just like anyone else.

Many of us are weary of this virus. Some of us are finding it harder to follow all the rules and guidelines. But this is not the time to let our guard down and reduce our vigilance. The facts do not support that. Like the election that looms on Nov. 3, the next few months could determine whether we finally can turn the corner on this insidious virus.

The president's fate is a lesson for all of us. But only if we choose to learn.

— The editorial board

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