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Op-Ed: You guys are killing us! An ER doctor’s plea for better behavior — and a safe inauguration

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump’s inauguration crowd on Jan. 20, 2017, wasn’t as large as he claimed. But the event did draw far more people than it would be safe to allow to gather during a pandemic.
(Los Angeles Times)

President Trump’s inauguration speech began in light rain.

But the next day he insisted that sunshine held off the rain until he finished, then it poured on a crowd of “a million and a half people,” which his press secretary called “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.”

That was a lie, and Trump and his crew have been lying ever since.

But this year we have a chance for a redo.

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If President-elect Joe Biden is looking for something to brag about on inauguration day, how about this: drawing the SMALLEST crowd ever.

What you do — how we ALL act in the next six weeks — will make the difference between an inconvenient fall and a disaster that will take years to overcome.

Trump’s first speech promised an end to “American carnage,” but once COVID hit, he abandoned that promise, utterly failing to protect Americans. Talk about carnage. In recent weeks, the virus has been killing more people every day than died in the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 300,000 of our friends, neighbors and family members are dead.

And that’s why Biden needs to set an example right out of the starting gate by telling Americans to stay home Jan. 20. Biden’s team has promised a largely virtual inauguration, but why not 100% virtual. No cheering crowds on the mall, no fancy balls. He can speak directly to the American people on television, and he should explain the example he’s setting.

Where I work, at a large Los Angeles teaching hospital, it feels some days as if every patient we see is COVID-positive — whether they’ve come in because of gunshot wounds, car accidents, heart attacks or strokes. We’re in full battle PPE all the time. Every day, across the country, we break another record: most infections in a 24-hour period, most hospitalizations, most deaths.

And now many of you say you won’t be vaccinated, or you’ll wait for others to go first.

You guys are killing us, and I’m not speaking metaphorically. In Los Angeles County, more than 21,000 healthcare workers have tested positive. Some 113 of us have died. And now, some of you won’t get a shot?

In recent days, the fallout from Angelenos’ Thanksgiving fun has come crashing into our ERs and ICUs.

The patients tell us about how their entire families were infected at a holiday dinner or how they can’t return to their group homes now that they’ve tested positive. They tell us they got together with only a few people in “low-risk bubbles” — or so they thought.

Across California, ICU availability has dried up as fast as puddles after a summer rain. In the Central Valley, home to some of the state’s most fervent mask resistance, nearly every ICU bed is filled. That means patients may have to travel hundreds of miles to find a bed, a distance that, with this virus, is often a death sentence.

From sea to shining sea, the COVID situation has become a sin, a shame and a national embarrassment.

You were warned.

But you were also deceived, lied to and misled.

Remember how Trump told us that COVID would disappear in the warm weather like magic? In February alone he told us a dozen times that the virus was nothing to worry about, that it would soon be under control, that it was less of a worry than the flu. Many of us wanted to hear that message.

But if you still believe such nonsense, I’ve got some Trump inauguration tickets to sell you.

If Trump had won the election, you can bet the inauguration would have been as big as he could make it. He would have encouraged huge crowds, just as he did at his campaign rallies across the country the last few months — the ones with the disclaimer on the ticket “guests assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

His bragging rights this time might have been that he’d held the largest super-spreader event ever. His inaugural ball could have been hosted by the Grim Reaper and His Masques of the Red Death?

I still hope that people will do the right thing this holiday and celebrate only with their households. But I worry that you are giving up. You’re so tired of this.

At the hospital, we are worn out too, but we’re not giving up.

And we’re hoping that Biden will be our ally in the fight. Asking his supporters to stay home would be his first step; his second should be a powerful inauguration speech.

The message should be simple. Forgive each other. Get on the same page for 100 days: Get vaccinated, wear a mask, hunker down and protect yourself, your family, your community.

But we can’t wait for a new president. Not now, while there is still time to make a difference. Stay home this Christmas, go into the New Year with renewed resolve, encourage your friends and family to do the same.

If we all do our part, we just might be able to have a mask-free Memorial Day next year. It could be the holiday when we finally gather to hold the hands of the grieving, mourn our losses together and stand shoulder to shoulder as Americans.

Mark Morocco is a Los Angeles physician and professor of emergency medicine.


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