“American Pathogen” shows footage of Donald Trump avoiding responsibility regarding the pandemic in news interviews. (Courtesy American Pathogen)

‘American Pathogen’ chronicles Trump’s catastrophic response to COVID-19

YouTube doc urges voters to consider president’s malfeasance around health crises

Debuting Sept. 9 on YouTube, the 31-minute documentary “American Pathogen” concisely and grimly tells the story of COVID-19 as it has unfolded over the past seven months, with heartbreaking narration by acclaimed actor Jeffrey Wright tying everything together.

Created by a team including Portal A, the Bay Area production company that made “Ed Lee, 2 legit 2 quit,” it includes up-to-the-moment facts culled just days ago, and new Zoom interviews with Juliette Kayyem, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs; Dr. Rishi Desai, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intelligence officer; and Chris Lu, former deputy secretary of labor.

It begins with the dispiriting fact that the U.S. is currently No. 1 in the world in total infections and total deaths (189,000 in the video, and 190,000 as of Sept. 9).

Flashing back to January, the video shows how President Donald Trump was briefed, repeatedly, about COVID-19, and that a Pandemic Playbook, culled from years of data, was available. Trump ignored it, left government science positions vacant, eliminated other positions, and cut funding to bodies such as the CDC.

When it was discovered that American test kits were defective, German test kits could have been obtained and distributed, but nothing was done. Instead, Trump held half-a-dozen rallies, rarely mentioning the virus.

“If we had taken that German test and gotten it out there with contact tracing, we would not have had to shut down the country,” says Desai.

The video adds that 90% of virus-related deaths could have been prevented.

Trump appears in many briefings and interviews in which he lies about the virus being under control, wrongly comparing it to the seasonal flu, or else blaming it on China, or on Barack Obama, or on governors of the 50 states.

“This is a president seeing the warning signs… and telling the American public the opposite, telling them to go on with their lives, telling them it was contained, telling them they didn’t need to change their behavior,” says Kayyem. “That, to me, is the malfeasance that is unique to this administration’s response.”

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared a national pandemic. The film shows Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, saying, “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

In the U.S., spring break was allowed to continue without social distancing.

Finally, states began to go on lockdown, and the virus curve began to flatten. But Trump worried about the sinking economy and pushed to open up again, too soon, and without a plan.

“The moment you stop doing the only thing that’s working, of course the virus is going to start spreading again,” says Desai.

Physician and writer Dr. Leana Wen looks at other countries — including Germany, South Korea and New Zealand — that successfully curbed the virus via swift action: “We know that public health is the road map to economic recovery,” she says.

The video ends with the way things are now, just a little over a month after Trump’s interview in which he stated “It is what it is,” describing the crisis.

“The casualness by which this president is willing to accept American casualties… you sort of can’t get your head around it,” says Kayyem.

Before the end credits, Wright urges viewers to consider before voting: “Faced with the biggest health crisis in a century, we have seen what Trump’s leadership means for America, and we have paid with our jobs, with our futures, with our lives.”

The filmmaking team includes Sarah Sherman, former producer at The Atlantic; Seamus McKiernan, former writer at Player’s Tribune and HuffingtonPost; and Pierce Wilson, documentary editor and animator, as well as Nate Houghteling, co-founder and executive producer at the Bay Area-based production company Portal A.

“With the deluge of news about COVID-19 and the gaslighting on social media, it’s easy to lose sight of what actually happened,” said Houghteling in a press release.

Wright added, “It’s critical to get the facts on the record before the November election, and projects like ‘American Pathogen’ will help us all remember: It didn’t have to be this way.”

CoronavirusMovies and TV

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

People exercise along the closed Great Highway on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Could the Great Highway become a great city park?

Permanent closure would require extensive public outreach, safety and traffic management plans

The City requires the recycling or reuse of debris material removed from a construction project site. <ins>(Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Permits proposed for haulers of construction debris to achieve zero-waste

San Francisco plans to tighten regulations on the disposal of construction and… Continue reading

Flames and smoke overtake a tree as the LNU Lightning Complex fire spreads in Fairfield, California on August 19, 2020. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
Many wildfires near full containment, but officials fear continuing hot weather

By Molly Burke The Sacramento Bee Thousands of firefighters continue to battle… Continue reading

False information on Twitter and other platforms can be manipulative and destructive.<ins> (Courtesy photo)</ins>
Social media can turn us against each other

Only empathy can alleviate the hate spread by misinformation

School district officials hope a new assignment system will make the student body at schools more diverse, as well as offer more predictability for parents.<ins></ins>
School assignment system set for major overhaul

SFUSD board weighing proposal that would limit choices, offer increased predictability

Most Read