Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 18, 2021.
Since the events of Jan. 6 when a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. followed by the impeachment of the president, news on the coronavirus pandemic has had competition as front-page news. As we focus on the security issues surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration, let’s not ignore the continuing severe damage that the pandemic is having on our country. This is an update of an article I wrote in November 2020 on the pandemic.
As of this writing, 23.9 million people in the U.S. have been infected with Covid-19 and 398,000 people have died. To put this into perspective, coronavirus fatalities are now 36% higher than the 292,000 combat fatalities during WWII. An NPR article on Jan. 7 reported that the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 20% of Covid-19 deaths.
A graph compiled by John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center shows that the seven-day moving average number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. is now at 230,000, compared to 50,000 or less for the next nine most affected countries. Even correcting for a difference in population, the number of U.S. infections is staggering compared with the other countries shown on the graph.
Why does the number of U.S. infections continue to climb while the number of infections in the next nine most affected countries are relatively stable? It’s due to the lack of the right tone at the top by President Donald Trump.
Trump has called the pandemic a hoax and has downplayed its seriousness, periodically claiming that it would soon end. He has encouraged people to protest governors who have advocated wearing masks and practice social distancing. Trump, as well as a portion of the public, have framed the issue as one of personal freedom – yet they don’t make this argument about laws requiring the use of seatbelts.
Had Trump faced the brutal facts of reality and had his tone at the top strongly encouraged the wearing of masks and the practice of social distancing, he could have flattened the curve. We could have waited for a vaccine with less illness and death, and much less impact to the economy, our healthcare system, education, employment and people’s personal lives.
Let’s give credit to Trump for encouraging and granting funds to pharma companies to rapidly develop vaccines and for fast-tracking their approval by the FDA. The Trump administration’s goal was to have 20 million people vaccinated by Dec. 31. However, as of Jan. 17, only 14.3 million people have been vaccinated, significantly missing the goal. When an initiative is mission critical, it must be fully operationalized. It wasn’t. Both the federal and state governments share the blame.
The right tone at the top is important for every leader. Trump has failed to understand this critically important leadership trait, which has adversely impacted the management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.