It would be unfair and unhelpful to blame and shame those who have received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. We certainly don’t want to discourage people from coming forward and getting tested and it’s important to have open and honest co-operation when it comes to contact tracing.
At the same time, however, it’s fair to call out reckless and irresponsible behaviour. The case of two men who allegedly visited five separate bars in Ottawa this past week despite knowing that they were awaiting test results — which came back positive in both cases — would be an example of that.
When it comes to our elected leaders — those who should know better and should be leading by example — it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard. The case of the Scottish member of Parliament who rode a train while awaiting testing results and then rode a train again after receiving a positive diagnosis would be an example of that.
Which brings us to the president of the United States of America.
Donald Trump revealed early Friday that both he and his wife have been diagnosed with COVID-19. That came hours after word emerged that close Trump adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive. Since then, there have been multiple positive cases connected with individuals who attended last Saturday’s event for Trump’s Supreme Court announcement. One of those positive cases is Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who met one-on-one with Trump’s nominee three days after that event. Many others are now self-isolating.
There are also questions about who else might have been exposed throughout the week as Trump travelled to and from the debate and to other campaign events. On Wednesday alone, Trump had a busy agenda during a stop in Minnesota, which included a private fundraiser at the home of a wealthy supporter. It also appears that Trump became aware of Hicks’ diagnosis prior to arriving in New Jersey for yet another fundraising event. Many of those who travelled with Trump or who were around him during the week were not wearing masks.
Even at the debate itself, members of the Trump family ignored the mask requirement that was in place for members of the audience. During that debate, Trump actually mocked Democratic challenger Joe Biden for wearing masks — something he did at a Pennsylvania rally just a few weeks prior.
All of this comes amid the release of a report from researchers at Cornell University which concluded that Trump himself is the world’s biggest spreader of coronavirus misinformation. It’s not just the disdain for mask-wearing, but his downplaying of the whole pandemic itself and his dismissive attitude toward medical experts and scientific evidence.
That has an effect on how people act. The president is tested constantly for the virus, as is anyone around him, and yet he still got sick. Obviously, the average citizen doesn’t have access to the same sort of testing and medical bubble that the president has. So not only might a more visible embrace of mask-wearing and distancing have prevented what appears to be an outbreak connected to the White House, it would help reinforce the importance of citizens taking those same steps.
We’ve obviously seen other examples of world leaders and high-profile politicians being affected by COVID-19, including just recently the leaders of the Conservative Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. A positive COVID-19 diagnosis is not necessarily evidence of a political leader failing to take the threat seriously.
But we should expect our leaders to take this pandemic seriously and, as much as they can, to lead by example. They don’t have to be preachy or sanctimonious about it (as our own prime minister is sometimes guilty of), but they should strive to avoid being a part of the problem.
An ideal outcome here would be the president making a full recovery but coming out of this with a greater appreciation for the potential seriousness of this virus and the value of following public health guidelines. That might be a naïve hope, and either way, much damage has already been done.