April 6th, 2020

Dear Nation — A Series of Apologies on COVID-19

(What I’m sincerely hoping we’ll be hearing in an upcoming press conference, and soon.)

Dear Fellow Americans,

I’d like to take a brief moment in today’s press briefing to say something that is long overdue.

I’m sorry.

In a moment, I’ll cite the specifics of what I’ll be apologizing about.

But first, I want to acknowledge the sadness of this spring. I see our parks, fields, and forests coming alive with beautiful flowers and trees in bloom, but see none of the exciting vitality, diversity, and spirit that characterizes our great country.

Here in your nation’s capital, the cherry blossoms bear witness only to a sad silence. I imagine they are in mourning for the terrible losses already inflicted by this cruel virus. No doubt many of you have experienced losses yourself — I offer you my deepest, and most heartfelt condolences in your grief.

Now it’s time for me to apologize. By doing so now, I hope to chart a path forward so we can work together to end this devastating threat.

Let me apologize for dismantling programs put in place to deal with global infectious threats.

Acting like a reality TV host instead of a leader, I fired Tom Bossert — he was Homeland Security Adviser and coordinated the response to pandemics. I also let Tim Ziemer go — he was the head of global health security on the White House’s National Security Council. I then shut down the entire global health security unit.

Then Dr. Luciana Borio, the National Security Council’s director for medical and biodefense preparedness, left as well. Like Ziemer and Bossert, my administration never replaced these talented individuals — I confess these moves greatly weakened our ability to respond to infectious threats.

Dr. Borio tried to warn us in late January what was coming. I’m sorry for not heeding that warning.

I also apologize to the reporter who asked me about these actions, and I called her questions “nasty” — that was an inappropriate and disrespectful response. You were correct to challenge me on these moves, as have many others in these exchanges. Going forward, I promise to engage in productive dialogue with an understandably interested press corp.

I have repeatedly proposed funding cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where many positions also remain unfilled. I even did this after COVID-19 had already appeared in our country. I’m sorry about that.

In addition, I have taken away the CDC’s lead role in navigating and monitoring a response to the outbreak, silencing their regular briefs during infectious threats. The CDC workers are dedicated public health professionals who deserve our respect, and our thanks. They tried to issue a broad warning in late February, one we should have heeded.

Instead, I downplayed their warnings. I’m sorry to them, and to you, for this misdirection.

I apologize for all the times I’ve mentioned that media coverage of COVID-19 is politically motivated. Such comments only serve to drive us further apart at a time when we need to be working together.

In other words, from now on, no more of this:

I’m sorry for not accepting the WHO COVID-19 test when first offered to the United States, for not moving more quickly to remedy our initially flawed tests, and for the ongoing struggles you experience even today with testing.

I did not help matters by saying in mid-March that COVID-19 testing could be obtained easily by any doctor, and that the tests were perfect. This clearly misled the public, causing more confusion — I apologize for that.

I’m sorry for calling the virus that causes COVID-19, which is SARS-CoV-2, the “Chinese virus”. Such medically inaccurate comments only encourage racism.

I’m sorry for saying to those working at overrun and beleaguered hospitals that they are exaggerating their need for lifesaving equipment such as ventilators. To the Governor of New York, I admire the selfless leadership you are displaying as our country’s largest city grapples with this terrible health threat.

To those of you on the front lines, putting your health and your family’s health at risk to care for people with COVID-19, I apologize for not doing enough to protect you. Despite what you have heard from our administration thus far, the federal stockpile should be there for all of us.

I also am sorry for the patchwork system in place for distributing these materials, which does not appear to be equitable.

Moreover, I apologize for implying that we already have an effective treatment for COVID-19, when such statements need the support of carefully done clinical studies.

Mostly, I’m sorry for the lies, half-truths, impulsive attacks, and bullying I’ve been responsible for ever since this horrible pandemic spread around the world. At times I confess financial and market forces, along with politics, motivated my actions more than personal and public health. I deeply apologize for that.

Many, including myself, have said we’re at war right now. Indeed, some aspects of this struggle are similar to war, when all a nation’s resources must be mobilized against a common enemy.

But wars pit people against people, so the comparison doesn’t quite fit, especially in a time when human kindness and caring are so important. In the fight against this infection, it isn’t other people who are enemies — it’s the virus.

Let’s work together to fight it.

Thank you.

(This song was co-written by Adam Schlesinger, who died last week of COVID-19 at age 52.)


80 Responses to “Dear Nation — A Series of Apologies on COVID-19”

  1. JOHN VAN DE VEN, HM1 Retired says:

    Dr Sax: Right on! Science means, “To Know” . When power ignores science, this is the outcome.


    Thanks Paul – well said and sadly true
    I will share this with many others today

  3. russell cecil md says:

    The NEJM is the medical version of the NY Times. Both organizations pretend to be objective but in fact exhibit powerful prejudice. Neither one employs any Republicans because they are both bastions of conformity and intolerance. Snark does not rise to the level of insight.

  4. Terrilynn Mills says:

    That was a beautiful song. That man in our presidential office is completely incompetent of recognizing his many faults. I don’t believe he knows anything other than his narcissistic behavior and his drive to have his ego continuously stroked. He would let Americans crumble to the ground just so he can stand tall and claim some sort of victory by himself that he single handily won the battle over this worldwide pandemic. He’s a sad, pathetic, disgusting, selfish, ignorant person.

  5. Father Donald M. Pachuta, M.D. says:

    Brilliantly done. I am now ordering my Paul Sax for president signs!
    A friend compiled a list of Trump comments – too long to post here – almost impossible to believe
    Paul does a great job with highlights

  6. M. Mavrinac says:

    Beautiful, insightful, creative, astute, acerbic piece. Lovely song captures your poignant message, Dr Sax.
    Your words give voice to the silent howl many of us feel. Yes, we must speak truth to power for the health of our patients and our colleagues as the very foundational principles of our profession are assaulted.
    Thank you!

  7. Philip Lederer says:

    Thanks Dr. Sax

  8. Elliot Tramer says:

    Curse those scientists they all say it’s even worse than flu
    Meanwhile I’ll keep on believing in what I wish were true
    Fox News will help to spread the world that there are other views
    And I’ll step up to the microphone and call the truth fake news

  9. Iván Giraldo says:

    Congratulations. You are very brave, you have revealed the true cause,

  10. James says:

    For those who think Paul’s piece should be in the New York Times, I fully agree. Keep political banter in the newspapers, and not in a journal of medicine. Shame on you Dr. Sax.

  11. Carol oneil says:

    This is well written and totally expresses what POTUS should be doing.
    This totally unscientific administration will go down in history as the most awful for this Covid, but also for damaging our earth and wildlife.

  12. James Robertson says:

    I agree with the other “James” who says Dr. Sax’s musing should appear in the NY Times. BUT IT Belongs on the COVER of the NEJM, updated each week, as well. it’s entirely appropriate to restate evidence, fact, and concern in the nation’s leading medical journal when failure to raise alarm allows lies, distortions, and lack of intelligence spewing from our nation’s president to “bend the curve” towards the inexorable exponential increase that has put our nation and perhaps the world at risk of an apocalyptic end.

    Concerned physicians, basic scientists, other health care workers, and millions of concerned citizens would be marching in the streets against this evil buffoon would it not contribute to the risks. Meanwhile, our president responds by threatening to defund the WHO.

    This is a madman. He is not MY president. He is a stupid carnival barker whose education in advanced mathematics seems to have ended just before long division (c.f. “per capita’ when referring to COVID rt-pcr testing of the American populace and his latest stupidity of promoting a temperature measurement as a substitute for returning COVID-19 contacts to the workforce!)


    • James Robertson says:

      Oop: I meant to say that measuring a COVID contact’s temperature was not substitute for a confirmed negative RT-PCR SARS-Novel Covid2-19 test as the adjudicator of whether it is reasonable to consider returning such a person to the workforce.

  13. Faiez Zannad says:

    Thank you Dr Sax! It’s really reassuring that sanity is still alive in the USA!
    Good to read Dr Sax’s and alike’s criticism of the world leading country worrisome President’s behavior.
    I wish you have added an apology for the disdain toward the rest of the world, with suggested cuts on US contribution to WHO funding in such a critical time of global exposure!

  14. Jeff Virant MD says:

    Thank you Dr. Sax for writing the truth. Unfortunately we cannot “heal” a narcissistic personality disorder, so in the unlikely event that your letter is ever read by the appropriate individual, it will be defensively rejected and ridiculed, all while thousands more continue to die.
    Thank you VERY much.

  15. Osama Koriech M.B.,B.Ch DMRT FRCR says:

    Brilliant, but at no vail.
    He is too arrogant, incompetent, narcissistic to see his mistakes and their effects.

  16. Alexander Lam says:

    While we often try to stay objective and not get into politics, it is time for physicians and health care workers to stop being silent. This administration which does not believe in science is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans.

  17. Theresa Kim says:

    Thank you for writing this. It is a BRILLIANT way to make these points. For those not on agreement, the way it is written lowers defensiveness. Captures the sadness too – gets lost in public debate. I did not know about all of these mistakes so wish it is would be available to wider audience as well. Thanks again.

  18. tony graceffo says:

    Lot of Monday morning quarterbacks. In addition to Trump and both major political parties, I think both the CDC and FDA have done a poor job.Mistakes are always going to be made in a “crisis” of this type.So ridiculous. Maybe in a few years people will be more rational in their analysis

  19. Tobias Pusch MD says:

    I applaude your courage and writing style.

    I’m sorry, too, for all of us that we don’t have capable individuals in the highest office leading our path forward the way it should be.
    I’m sorry for our country that we have to endure politicized, narcissistic rants and defensive posturing in press conference meant to inform us on key aspects of the outbreak response.

  20. Kathryn Kocurek, MD says:

    Thank you Paul. Very well done review of the multiple ways this administration has dismantled our ability nationally and globally to respond to threats to human existence, to Covid 19 in particular, but also to health threats such as climate change, contaminated water and air, food safety and future pandemics; these will surely come with global warming, increased contact of human populations with animal pathogens as the human population expands into wild ecosystems, and increased human movement around the globe. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is a human health issue and the Trump administration has failed at every turn to prioritize our health. If physicians do not speak up and speak science and truth to power, we are not upholding our oaths as physicians. The failure of this administration is a health crisis and discussion does belong in our medical journals. The actions listed in this piece that undermine our healthcare leadership structure are facts and are very sad and alarming. All of us who are reusing PPE, wondering if the particular Covid test that happens to be available in our area is accurate, waiting for long turn around times, struggling to keep our practices afloat, staff safe, patients cared for, etc feel this absolute failure of leadership and organization very acutely.

  21. Hilary Worthen MD says:

    Thank you, Paul, for such a thoughtful piece. The tone, despite the irony, makes me deeply nostalgic for an actual mature, responsible leader with the integrity necessary help us get through this crisis.

  22. Monica Gandhi says:

    Paul, in a word, this is absolutely BRILLIANT

  23. Shannon Williamson says:

    bawhahahahahahahahah when more than 50% of what you expect an apology over is total bs, it makes the rest of it look ignorant as well. Good luck with it!

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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