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. Gabriel Szekely says:

    Right On!!! Couldn’t agree more!

  2. Stuart Mushlin MD says:

    Oh Paul,
    It must be that the marijuana stores are open in the Commonwealth.
    Cause you’re smokin’ somthin’.
    A narcissistic, petty, mean, vulgar (to wit, his recent ‘models’ quote) person of such limited imagination won’t even realize this is an indictment of his incompetence and incessant drive to put himself before the country.

  3. Carrie A Braverman says:

    Oh, wouldn’t that be so nice. And yet, I don’t think he’d accept one bit of responsibility or compassion even if his own child died.

  4. Jenae Limoges MD says:

    Thank you Dr. Sax, for being perfectly correct on every point. Don’t think we will ever hear this, but agree with you that we should.

  5. Howard Grossman says:

    One of the things I admire about you most Paul. Your unbounded optimism. LOL. I wish to live in that alternate universe.

  6. Scott Helmers says:

    Thank you. It is pleasant to read what honesty and integrity would look like. I find it disheartening that there are more than a couple Trump supporters among physicians, even now. But I suppose a medical degree carries no guarantees. At least, there are probably very few right wing extremist physicians who read your thoughtful, empathetic blog and whose comments we might have to endure.

  7. Ken Busman says:

    This is a long overdue mea culpa and would be great only…..IF: Agent Orange could have a personality transplant, or a tiger could change his stripes……I am afraid that the only realistic cure for our nation is a Trumpectomy, or a case of the EmperorVirus afflicting our Orange Emperor.

  8. Dr Shambhu Kumar says:

    Dr Sax, please stick to medical science. Don’t mix it with politics.
    From the beginning of epidemic you/NEJM didn’t do social campaign.
    Whatever you wrote everyone knows. Dont drive you political agenda.
    Very shameful.

    • Scott Helmers says:

      Needless deaths are occurring because of Trump’s dereliction of duty. It would be irresponsible not to consider the politics. To support Trump at this moment is the shameful action and makes a person blameworthy for the unnecessary deaths.

    • Tyler Lemay, MD says:

      Dr. Kumar, please participate in democracy. It requires input from all of us, medically trained or otherwise.

    • Samira Afzal says:

      I’m afraid politics and medicine can’t exist without influencing one another, Dr Kumar. We are already sadly too familiar with the healthcare issues affecting refugees (victims of political egos). It’s even more shameful to see one of the most advanced economies of the world facing completely avoidable shortages of life-saving equipment. Kudos to the frontliners and American people who have stayed strong and rallied on, despite their leader’s unwise behaviour.

    • charles flynn says:

      Dr Kumar
      Thanks for a realistic take on POTUS Trump’s response to COVID 19.
      Your favorable view of the actions taken by the Administration to fight
      the pandemic. I am a conservative physician, who also graduated from
      Cornell Med (as did Dr Fauci). Not among “the few rightwing extremist
      physicians” that Scott Helmers feels “must be endured”
      Beam me up, Scotty

  9. Jon Appelbaum says:

    Well said, Paul! Too bad this didn’t come out of the horse’s mouth!

  10. Pam Mccormick says:

    If only he would ever behave like a fully formed human being and actually feel any of this

    Thanks Paul for all you are doing

  11. Nick Bellos says:

    Nice commentary Paul,

  12. jane keeley says:

    When we speak up, its what we call Democracy….
    Nothing to be ashamed of here.
    We all get our say.

    Thank you Dr Sax for nailing it!

  13. Charles Burnett MD says:

    Our nation lacks leadership at this most urgent time.Let us all unite behind science and support each governor as he struggles with shortages of resources and a surfeit of false claims and deceit spewed by Trump. The US will endure despite this sociopath.

  14. Rajat Bhatt MD says:

    nice nothing can be further from the truth

  15. Harrison Weed says:

    Is a gross negligence of duty that causes the deaths of thousands, of tens of thousands a crime? What is the penalty?

  16. Ashley Adams says:

    I think this would be a terrible step for our president. If he did this, if he sincerely and in his own voice did this, he would probably win the respect of many — leading to his re-election. That would be an awful occurrence.

  17. Kim Lucas says:

    Our nations inability to mount a better response is tragic and shameful. We have the resources and we have not been able to put them to use. Our leadership bears much of the blame but many people have been asleep at the wheel for a long time. I hope there is soul searching and ensuing change and not just endless finger pointing.

  18. Bernhard Lämmle says:

    Excellent,, I fully agree. Thank you Dr. Sax
    Bernhard Lämmle

  19. Dr.Ken says:

    I am a 65 year old Canadian physician. I don’t post much online and certainly nothing about politics….but I am compelled to. Your President will never apologize because he has a typical narcissistic personality disorder. How your great country elected this terrible human speaks volumes about dysfunction in your election and electoral college system. It needs reform ASAP which is easier said than done. Good luck to all of us.

  20. linda groene says:

    I couldn’t agree more. He has been irresponsible and its taking this tragedy to try to correct these errors. Thanks for you creativity.

  21. Jody says:

    Always spot on!
    Thank you Paul and stay well.

  22. Dr. Cheryl Orr says:

    Thank you. Physicians didn’t make this pandemic, nor its response, political. Trump did for all the reasons cited. We simply refuse to pretend we aren’t being harmed by his dangerous rhetoric. We owe it to each other, our patients and our fellow Americans to respond to his reckless and ignorant misguided words and actions as this letter does here.

  23. Jose Perez-Rodriguez says:

    It is inappropriate (and self-serving) to utilize a forum and pulpit of the caliber of the NEJM to advance one’s political beliefs, irrespective of how valid one might consider those beliefs. Physicians are political animals, but they should be so in the personal arena, and not in the medical one. Your caliber as an impartial and objective commentator on medical facts, and your authority to do so, have been all but erased for a moment of lack of self-restrain.

    • Charles Carter says:

      Not so. Cite one faulty statement; and/or explain how the president’s actions and remarks have no impact on public health of Americans.
      If I prescribe an agent for hypertension and the president says the need for treatment is overblown, does my rebuke qualify as partisan, political and self-serving? Is it to be relegated to media run by non-experts?

  24. Cheryl Keenan says:

    Thank you Paul. Couldn’t agree more! We have to make sure this never happens again.

  25. Anne Fabiny says:

    Dr Sax: every media outlet in the country needs to broadcast this information. I hope that you have a press agent or someone who will send this out to cable news and twitter.

    And this is not a politically motivated attack, rather an honest telling of what happened. It needs to be heard and understood broadly so the American public has information with which to decide how the President has managed this to some degree AVOIDABLE crisis.

  26. ExMidwesterner says:

    If by self-serving you mean that some of us want to live through this pandemic despite Trump and Co.’s attempts to let as many of us perish as possible, then yes, this was horribly self-serving. See you on the front lines!

  27. Dr. John Glyer says:

    Thank God that 22 of the 24 comments so far agree with you in a big way. The other two say you should be ashamed for venturing into politics from medicine. What they don’t seem to understand is that tens of thousands of lives will be lost to an infectious disease because of the actions you mentioned and more. This IS a medical matter and thank you for writing it this way, even if there is not a chance of coming to fruition.

  28. Eric says:

    Those who work and advocate in the public health field are unable to leave politics in their personal world. Politics and public health have been intertwined since humans built cities- it is inappropriate and unthinkable to suggest that physicians should not advocate politically in their professional role. Politics can have major effects on the ability of physicians to care for patients.

  29. Carol Vassar, MD says:

    Thank you Dr. Sax for providing some of the details of why we were so ill prepared. Much more of our pandemic monitoring was dismantled. We need a more extensive review as well as a new look at what should be in place including a look at what needs to be produced in this country for the sake of national security in the event of disruptions such as a pandemic. Given that Tump is still in charge we cannot count on his administration to make the appropriate assessment.

    As for the humor, thanks. This has been a horrible 3 1/2 years. Truth, honor and justice down the drain . We need some relief

  30. It is important to note that Donald Trump spelled Coronavirus “Caronavirus” in his tweet, you know, because he cares so much about it

  31. Scott Schiff-Slater says:

    I COMPLETELY AGREE, in caps. An apology that won’t happen.
    Thank you,
    Scott Schiff-Slater, MD

  32. Megan Maurer, D.O. says:

    I just want to mention that I think it’s great you featured Fountians of Wayne. They are one of my favorite bands and I was so upset to hear that Adam Schlessinger had died from covid.

  33. Pamela Hines says:

    This story is so sad. It reminds me of the story of the bus driver from Detroit who posted a video on line one day about a woman who kept coughing on his bus without covering her cough and 89 people were on his bus. He died of the virus approximately a week later leaving a wife and three children. Trump did not create the virus but he does have responsibility for failing to address it. He and those who support him are complicit in those deaths.

  34. Ryan says:

    Please submit this to The NY Times or Boston Globe for publishing! An excellent, factual and brief (all things considered) summary of the gross negligence of POTUS d’orange.

  35. Joann says:

    He will never apologize his whole is worn on his shirt. I don’t get how so many are fooled and just don’t see his true qualities . I’ve banned tv from my home I will no longer listen his bullshit . GID bless America

  36. robert david, says:

    God be with you, Dr. Sax. I’ll rest better tonight. Every bit of truth reported about this person, no matter how presented, makes the day more tolerable.
    Robert David
    New Orleans

  37. H.Ashhab says:

    Well said, couldn’t agree more

  38. Amutha Rajagopal, MD says:

    Dr. Paul Sax,

    Really appreciate your voice! & I could not agree more!

  39. J.P. Hilton says:

    Brilliant! Andy Borowitz now reevaluating career options.

    Leadership is about selflessness and the Presidency is about service.

    We’ve the completely wrong phenotype, at entirely the wrong time.

  40. Damilola Adeyemi says:

    Thank you Paul but please wake up from this dream. We all know it will not happen.

  41. Sabra Custer says:

    So well said, although the summary of mistakes and willful negligence is frustrating.

  42. Neil says:

    Yes apologizes are warranted. Looking forward to your ghostwritten apology letters for:

    Sophie Wilmès
    Mette Frederiksen
    Sanna Marin
    Édouard Philippe
    Angela Merkel
    Katrín Jakobsdóttir
    Hassan Rouhani
    Giuseppe Conte
    Serge Telle
    Mark Rutte
    Erna Solberg
    António Costa
    Pedro Sánchez
    Stefan Löfven
    Boris Johnson
    Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello

  43. Sanford R. Kimmel says:

    Donald Trump will never apologize for his incompetence. President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” I recall President Trump stating that he was not responsible for the lack of masks. He’s the person in charge, so yes he is responsible. His failure to recognize the danger of coronavirus and have the CDC take initial action has cost thousands of lives and will cost thousands more. Where did get his medical degree? What right does he have to try to silence Dr. Fauci, our top infectious disease expert?

  44. maggie says:

    Simply saying sorry won’t cut it. It is way past time for a resignation.

  45. BillR says:

    I’m not holding my breath.

  46. Frank West says:

    To those who think Dr. Sax should remain silent: First, HIV came for the gays, but I said nothing because I was not gay. Next Ebola came for the Africans, but I said nothing because I was not African. Then Covid19 came for me… Well, you know the rest.

    Silence is complicity. Silence is cowardly. Dr. Sax speaks truth to power.

  47. Dr. G says:

    I wish your comments would keep circulating on news media and social networks. People need to be informed and reminded of the incompetencies of the man in the White House and force him to resign. We all know he will never admit to his inadequacies.

  48. Charles Carter says:

    Regarding our fearless leader, I’ve referred back to this countless times since his election (published roughly a month before the election). The current instances happen to be those that will cost the most lives.
    The testing debacle, though, has caused me to wonder if we haven’t suffered acutely from a kind of medical nationalism, entirely separate from partisan politics. Good tests obviously existed from Germany and China, possibly elsewhere. Yet the CDC and FDA insisted on something homegrown. While an extreme case, this is not entirely atypical of our regulatory structure in the US, nor of academia

  49. Cat Ledesma says:

    Well Put & Well Taken, Sir!
    Unfortunately, when watching his daily updates, …which I can barely tolerate, …I’m convinced our president has more consternation over being bested by this pandemic, in taking control of the headlines! #sad

  50. Richard D.deShazo MD says:

    Thank you for this chronology, Dr. Sax.
    I once worked for a person who had narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies, as later diagnosed by a colleague who was a respected academic psychiatrist. After the diagnosis, I told the psychiatrist I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out why he acted as he did. The psychiatrist said, “You were wasting your time. You will never figure him out. He is crazy”.

    That explains a lot about our president’s behaviors. Any presumed intrusion on his delusion of omnipotence provokes an irrational reaction with no concern for anyone he may injure. Too bad he was not removed from office when there was an opportunity as the body count from his actions continues to increase.

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

Biography | Disclosures | Summaries

Learn more about HIV and ID Observations.