By: Yoshira Macías Mejía

Since news first circulated about the novel coronavirus, members of the Trump administration have downplayed the seriousness of the virus by calling it a hoax and spreading misinformation. Recently released audio recordings of Bob Woodward’s interviews with President Trump demonstrate the willingness of the administration to deceive Americans. The federal government’s response to the pandemic has been disastrous, occurring as a result of the President politicizing the pandemic and continuously sowing seeds of division. Not only was political polarization a problem, so was the fact that state governments were left to fend for themselves to figure out how best to control the pandemic. As a result of uncoordinated responses by federal and state leaders, public opinion also impacted the containment of the pandemic.
Because the Trump administration did not take the pandemic seriously, Americans were confused as to the deadliness of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. As a result, many did not heed the precautions of social distancing and mask wearing urged by Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts. State governments were forced to take action to protect their residents. But even when state governments took actions to protect their residents and public safety, President Trump promoted political partisanship by urging Republican Governors to keep businesses open, thereby avoiding precautions to curb the pandemic. States led by Democratic governors shut down immediately and asked their residents to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus. This was opposite the response by most Republican governors who did not shut down their states until months later or opted to remain open all together.
States that opted to shut down early in the pandemic include New York, Michigan, California, and Washington. These were states experiencing early increases in the number of COVID-19 cases. Leadership in New York, despite muddling through unchartered territory, stands as a model for addressing the pandemic at the state level, but Michigan also is another example of how proactive leadership by a Democratic governor helped curtail the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. Other states, ones with supporters of the Trump administration, such as the Lieutenant Governor of Texas who was willing to sacrifice the elderly in a rush to reopen the economy, are examples of how partisanship has taken the forefront of the pandemic.  
Early in the pandemic the federal government managed to quickly pass a relief bill to ensure that Americans received financial assistance. Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a relief bill that gave eligible Americans $1,200 in stimulus checks and an extra $600 a week to the unemployed. Yet, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act itself serves as an example of the political nature of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, individuals who do not have a social security number or are married to an undocumented individual, even if one of the partners is a U.S. citizen, were ineligible to receive a stimulus check. Further, because this component of the CARES Act was only for four months, a second stimulus package has been under negotiations. Republican senators seek to reduce unemployment insurance benefits for unemployed workers by casting individuals who are receiving unemployment as lazy and unmotivated to seek employment. This negative view of workers is promoted despite evidence to the contrary that generous benefits are a disincentive for workers to seek employment. This view, promoted by conservative legislators like Rand Paul, perpetuates the myth that welfare makes people lazy.
The pandemic has brought illness, death and an economic crisis with federal leaders unable to agree on the next response since the first relief bill was passed. The unemployment rate was at 8.4% in August (more than twice what it was in February), after having reached a high of 14.7% in April. There were roughly 13.5 million Americans out of work in August, down from 23.1 million in April. At the end of August, according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor, 30.9 million workers were either receiving unemployment benefits or had applied and were awaiting a decision. While these numbers appear positive, they do not present a complete picture. Millions of workers have not recovered employment and are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.  Further, the lower unemployment rate does not necessarily mean that people are better off. Unemployed workers cannot find employment that will help them take care of themselves and their families, with many having lost the health insurance they had through their previous employment. It would be helpful to have figures on the demographics of workers who recovered employment and in which sectors. For instance, are they working in the service sector, as essential workers, and if so are these employees working in dangerous or safe working environments? These questions need to be answered for there to be a comprehensive view of what is occurring with civilian employment.
In addition to the historically high unemployment rates, it is important to identify the states that have been assisting individuals on the front lines and those who are the most vulnerable. This is especially important given the racial and ethnic gaps with regard to the differences in risk that members of subpopulations are subjected to in the pandemic. Initial numbers show that Latinos and Blacks are the ones facing the brunt of the pandemic, are more likely to be unemployed, and have the highest risk of contracting Covid-19. Among essential workers, Latinos comprise a large segment of those in agriculture and in cleaning services (whether it be people’s homes, offices, stores, or hospitals). Further, they have been dying at a greater rate than their White counterparts. At the close of summer, the states with the highest rates of infection and death were California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. These states have a majority (57.7%) of the 60.1 million Latinos in the country and point to the vulnerability of this population during this health crisis.
Some state and local governments have made it their responsibility to help immigrants during the crisis. California, for example, has provided undocumented immigrants with some monetary assistance. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, created a cash assistance program through state funds and private donations to provide undocumented immigrants with $500 each. Also, on the list of entities that provided aid to immigrants are the cities of Chicago and Washington, D.C. These support programs contrast the responses by states like Florida, whose governor blamed the spread of COVID-19 on Latino farmworkers. Despite undocumented immigrants’ immense contributions to the economy, particularly the nation’s food systems, they were excluded from receiving aid by the federal government. These examples show that the pandemic has been politicized by Trump and the Republicans. Instead of helping everyone equally, irrespective of the states people live in, they have been perpetuating inequities during a time of crisis.
The polarizing and reckless nature of the Trump administration continuously made it difficult for government officials who are invested in protecting citizens to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and promote and protect public safety. Whether it was the President describing the coronavirus as a “hoax” or government officials stalling passage of another relief bill, the results have been inhumane and destructive of human lives.