The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, on Wednesday broke with a nearly two-century tradition of avoiding politics to lambast U.S. politicians for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a first for the journal, the editors called for Americans to vote out leaders who have not done enough to address the pandemic.
“When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” the editors wrote. “We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
While the 35 editors who signed the editorial did not call out President Donald Trump by name, the article is filled with allusions to his actions.
"The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate," they wrote. "The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls."
The editorial is the latest condemnation of the Trump administration from a respected scientific publication. Last month, Scientific American endorsed Joe Biden for president, the first time the venerable publication has backed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history.
The New England Journal of Medicine editorial, titled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” does not endorse Biden, it offers an unsparing critique of Trump and his administration.
The editors wrote that while Covid-19 is a global crisis, the United States government has “failed at almost every step” to contain the pathogen’s spread.
“This crisis has produced a test of leadership,” they wrote. “With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”
The U.S. leads the world in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths. The country has recorded over 7.3 million infections and more than 208,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
The editorial points to early blunders such as testing shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers, but adds that the country continues to fall short today.
“While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have,” they wrote.
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The editors called other public health interventions, such as social distancing measures, “lackadaisical at best,” and criticized moves to lift restrictions before the virus’ spread was brought under control.
The editorial also pointed out that mask wearing has been inconsistent across the country, “largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures.”
The journal editors also called out several governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, that they say have been undermined by the federal government.
The CDC, they wrote, “has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures,” and the FDA “has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence.”