Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, director of Stanford's Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging, told American Family Radio Friday that consideration for the response of then-President Donald Trump should be made in parts, not the whole, given the pressure to save lives while learning the unknowns of a new virus on the fly. But when all is said done, he added, major reforms should follow such a review.
Minimal risk to young people, harm from lockdowns
Two things became apparent to Bhattacharya early on during the pandemic. One, the COVID risk for young people was extremely small, he told show host Jenna Ellis. And two, for the general population, lockdowns would do more harm than good.
"There was a very large gradient in the risk of dying from COVID. Young people have [an incredibly] small risk of dying. For babies and children, the flu was worse. For older people, it was much, much higher. So, there was this big gradient risk depending on your age," the epidemiologist noted.
"The second thing that was clear was that some of the things that were being considered – these lockdowns, these stay-at-home orders, closures of businesses, schools and churches – were going to be tremendously damaging. The debate that was happening inside the government was, 'Should we lock down? Should we do what China did – or [should we] have a more measured response that focuses protection on more-vulnerable older people?'"
Bhattacharya was invited to visit with Trump in the Oval Office the summer of 2020. He found the president to be "somewhat regretful" of his decision. Trump thought lockdowns would save two million lives, Bhattacharya said. Instead, "the lockdowns probably cost more lives than they saved."
To his credit, Trump had advisors who did not lead him to vaccine mandates, lockdowns and closures and other extreme responses. Trump just listened to the wrong people.
"He brought in Dr. Scott Atlas, who advised him against locking down, against closing schools in the fall of 2020; advised him to lift a lot of the restrictions or at least remove the emergency declarations that allowed state governors to do the kind of draconian things that [some] did. He also kept in place people like Tony Fauci," Bhattacharya listed.
"Then on the last day of his presidency he gave Tony Fauci an award for his work on Operation Warp Speed. He allowed here to be this ambiguity in the government. Savvy political bureaucratic actors like Tony Fauci took advantage and got their way with the lockdowns. It was with President Trump at the helm."
Civil liberties were violated everywhere with nothing to show for it, Bhattacharya summarized.
What should be America's next steps?
So, what are America's next steps? What needs to happen to help prevent loss of individual freedoms in the next national health crisis?
Bhattacharya would like to see recognition from Trump – not necessarily an admission that things went off the rails as the pandemic progressed, but a recognition of a flawed response so that the next president, whoever that might be, can avoid the same mistakes.
In the professor's eyes, it's a reasonable request – but something Trump, thus far, isn't doing in his bid to return to the White House.
"President Trump, I think, needs to address this complicated legacy. During the campaign we've seen he has basically avoided these questions and tried to pretend like he did everything right.
"But he didn't do everything right," Bhattacharya claimed. "I mean, you may like President Trump or not like President Trump, but we have to be honest about what was good and what was bad during his term. I don't see how it's possible to evaluate him without doing a real honest evaluation of what happened in 2020."
And all of 2020 can't be judged the same, said Bhattacharya, who gives Trump a pass for the early part of the year and all the confusion around at that time … but not for the middle of the year.
"Now I can understand in early 2020, there was a lot of confusion; as I said, a lot of difficulty and fighting," he shared. "The key thing though was in the middle of 2020, when he [Trump] started to say, 'Okay, we need to change our policies.' Why was he unable to do so?'"
Bhattacharya believes honest evaluation needs to be followed by massive reform of the country's health system. Government agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) need to be restricted in a way that restricts the seemingly limitless "autocratic powers they wielded during the pandemic," he said.
"They put in place powers in the hands of people like Tony Fauci. In fact, Tony Fauci himself had tremendous ability to set policy for a wide swath of things, ranging from education, to business, to government spending in the trillions. His advice was followed all the way across," Bhattacharya recalls.
"Now, the question in my mind is how do you reform the system so that that kind of concentrated power never again lands in the hands of a very small group of powerful scientists who are entirely unaccountable?
"Political leaders like President Trump need to answer how they plan to reform our systems so that that doesn't happen again," Bhattacharya urged.