The Latest: Dishonesty and incompetence is a deadly mix

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readSep 11, 2020


Dear Reader,

Political news dominated the coronavirus conversation this week as tapes revealed that President Donald Trump understood the severity of Covid-19, starting back in February, while downplaying it to the public.

With nearly 6.4 million Americans infected and over 191,800 dead, the seriousness of the virus is obvious. That the president didn’t ever fully realize this is unlikely. (You may want to read Andy Slavitt this week — he has thoughts.)

What’s frustrating is that despite a shared understanding that Covid-19 is serious and deadly, the U.S. response to the virus is widely considered to be one of the worst in the world. While Covid-19 directly impacts every country worldwide, some countries are and were more prepared. Contract tracing, for example, is an established part of health care in several countries who have more successfully handled Covid-19.

A new study out this week analyzing how Covid-19 spread throughout the world concludes that “intensive testing and contact tracing could have prevented SARS-CoV-2 from becoming established.” Again, this has been obvious for many months now. Yet whether the U.S. can substantially bolster contact tracing and testing is somehow still a question.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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Here’s what we’re talking about on the blog:

Trump knew. The president’s downplaying of Covid-19 throughout the pandemic has been perplexing, but new tapes of conversations between the president and journalist Bob Woodward revealed this week that Trump knew and said Covid-19 was more dangerous than the flu, even though he publicly said different. “He knew an invisible fire was coming here, and he let the fire rage. And the people around him knew he knew. And they too did nothing,” writes health care expert Andy Slavitt on the blog.

A history of redlining makes Covid-19 worse for Black Americans. A new report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) shows that people in neighborhoods that were redlined over 80 years ago are at a higher risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19. Redlined neighborhoods continue to face increased pollution, decreased access to healthy food, and widespread poverty; the new report shows that people in redlined neighborhoods have a higher incidence of chronic illnesses, and as a result, they are more vulnerable to the severe effects of Covid-19. “Health inequities will persist until we address the legacy of racism in the housing market,” one of the co-authors says. Read more about the findings here.

Don’t give yourself a DIY vaccine. A group of scientists in the Boston area have been developing and taking a DIY coronavirus vaccine. The problem is that the experiment bypasses many important aspects of vaccine clinical trials — like testing for safety and effectiveness. It’s also an ethical nightmare. Critics say the experiment is “far more likely to contribute to growing public mistrust of all vaccines than it is to provide a path forward to combating the pandemic.” In a pandemic where trust is currency, it’s a potentially dangerous message. Read more.

A few smart reads:

She Cared for Covid-19 Patients — But When She Caught the Virus, She Fought it Alone

What’s Life Worth? The Dollar Cost of 200,000 Dead Americans

How One Covid-19 Doctor Became a Ventilator Whistleblower

America is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral (The Atlantic)

It’s Hard to Keep a College Safe From Covid, Even With Mass Testing (Bloomberg)



Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that