For docs who imagine Trump distorted the pandemic, the slender alternative is seen as an insult
A doctor treating patients with symptoms related to coronavirus takes a break at a health clinic in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 3, 2020.
Francisco Macias | Getty Images
In the spring, US medics were announced as heroes. But in the fall, rhetoric began to change and the public grew increasingly tired of the coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump accused doctors of increasing the number of Covid-19 deaths for money.
With the ongoing death toll from the coronavirus, many medical professionals are hoping for a landslide victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who has said he will follow advice from scientists if he wins the presidency.
“Trump has insulted our integrity and allowed Covid more than seven months of chaos and excessive deaths (due to),” said Dr. John Purakal, a North Carolina-based emergency doctor. “It’s so surprising to me,” he said. “But here we are.”
A variety of polls show that the majority of Americans do not approve of the government’s management of the coronavirus. In July, only 32% of Americans said they approved of Trump’s pandemic strategy, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In August, 7 out of 10 Americans who responded to a CNN poll said the president’s response was embarrassing. NBC ends election day polls and early voting. 51% of voters think US efforts to contain the outbreak are going badly.
Biden could still win. But after the Trump administration undermined or contradicted its own medical experts in everything from wearing masks to reopening schools at the start of the outbreak, the close race feels like one for many doctors fighting the pandemic Slap in the face.
Texas and Florida – where there have been more than 960,000 and 827,000 confirmed cases, respectively – picked Trump even though Democrats believed the outbreak gave them a chance to fight in some red states.
“Many of us are now wondering if we are speaking into an echo chamber,” said Miami-based doctor Dr. Krishna Komanduri. Miami-Dade County dealt a heavy blow to the Biden Campaign in Florida and helped seal the state for Trump.
The economy, not the pandemic, was a higher priority for 70% of Trump voters, according to the NBC poll.
For doctors like Komanduri, economics and coronavirus are not separate topics. Successful containment of the virus will result in fewer restrictions, which will inevitably open up the economy, he said.
“It makes me take a serious look at how I can make a difference,” added Komanduri, chief of transplant and cell therapy at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I went to bed Tuesday night and felt really helpless and sad.”
Of course, not all healthcare workers are leaning to the left, and many remain key supporters of the Trump administration. A 2016 study found that 46% of doctors are Republicans. However, things seem to have changed in the past four years. Recent analysis shows that more and more doctors are increasingly joining the Democrats.
For those firmly on the Democratic side this year, the race has been too close to console. And that feels easy.
Purakal points out that hundreds of healthcare workers have died from Covid-19 and countless others have been infected.
“I really thought our experiences in the trenches would affect people’s voting choices,” added Dr. Avital O’Glasser, associate professor and hospital physician at Oregon Health & Science University.
Trump’s response to the virus reflected a disregard for scientific expertise, including his downplaying the importance of masks. She thought Biden would win in a landslide, so the close race is a real wake-up call, she said. Even if Biden ultimately wins, she has been thinking about what she could do to communicate more effectively with people in the future.
“Our country doesn’t have the science and math education that many other countries have,” she said.
Others say they feel exhausted after months of battling the coronavirus and are hoping for a clear Biden win to keep their spirits up.
“I can’t help but feel, as a healthcare worker, that the nation is really failing us … even if Biden wins,” added James Kerridge, a Chicago-based director of the nursing practice. “All the clapping doesn’t make up for feeling like still cannon fodder for incompetent administration.”
Dr. George Alba, a lung doctor based in the Boston area, said the election shocked him. He had to live apart from his family for weeks to protect them and he spent long hours treating Covid-19 patients.
“We felt like we had the nation’s support until the coronavirus turned political and the government eroded trust in scientists,” he said. “The mood over support for healthcare workers only lasted as long as politically favorable.”
Other doctors have searched a lot for the soul of what their patients might go through and how to better relate to them.
Dr. Laolu Fayanju, an Ohio-based family doctor, treats patients in so-called Rust Belt cities like Youngstown.
He has heard from many of his patients that they had a difficult time during the pandemic and felt lonely and isolated. Others are concerned about their job prospects and have felt encouraged by Trump’s promise to restore manufacturing jobs.
He realizes that many of these patients gave Trump a victory in Ohio.
“I pass through this former General Motors auto plant on my way to work,” he said. “It feels like a mausoleum, a symbolic representation of what the region is going through.”