A doctor who was vilified by Donald Trump after contracting Ebola while treating patients in west Africa in 2014 has hit back at the president for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, branding Trump’s lack of empathy “the single greatest threat to the American people”.
Craig Spencer, who was New York’s first Ebola case after returning home from Guinea six years ago, was accused of being “very selfish” by Trump after he went out in the city before feeling any symptoms and being diagnosed.
The New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center doctor, who has treated hundreds of coronavirus patients, spoke out on Tuesday night after Trump left hospital, where he was being treated for Covid-19, and despite being contagious with the deadly virus removed his mask for photos outside the White House.
Trump then released a video in which he told Americans: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian, tweeted: “I followed all public health guidance and infected no one. You’ve unnecessarily exposed numerous people over the last few days, your administration is refusing to do contact tracing, and there’s an outbreak in the White House because of your dangerous disregard of public health.
“‘Don’t let it dominate your life’ you said! 210,000 Americans have died. We held their hands and called their families over grainy video connections so they could see their last breaths. Your lack of empathy is the single greatest threat to the American people. You have failed us.”
Across the US, teachers and healthcare providers are “putting themselves at risk” because Trump treated the virus as “a political threat, not a public health crisis”, Spencer said.
The 39-year-old accompanied his comments with a 2014 tweet by the president that said: “The Ebola doctor who just flew to NY from West Africa and went on the subway, bowling and dining is a very SELFISH man-should have known!”
At the time, Trump also spoke on television, telling Fox & Friends: “I consider that doctor extremely selfish.”
The White House has reportedly become a “ghost town” amid complaints over contact tracing of the president and infected aides.
Spencer, a prominent critic of the president since the start of the pandemic, told the Washington Post: “If the president cannot keep the White House safe, how can he keep the country safe?
“I think someone said to me, ‘Oh, this must feel really weird kind of reflecting on this and what he said in 2014.’ But that’s not the weird part. What feels weird for me is fighting against as opposed to with the president to end the deadliest pandemic in the last century.”
He said Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis had “for some reason … made him more of an authoritative voice on Covid, unlike the doctors treating patients who’ve died and having to tell their families over grainy video connections that their loved ones are dead. It’s just not equivalent.”
Spencer went to Guinea for five weeks in 2014, as a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders and to help treat Ebola patients. After returning to New York in October he said he felt depression and exhaustion but had no symptoms and went back to his normal life, including going on the subway and bowling, while following Doctors Without Borders guidelines.
On 23 October 2014 he measured a fever of 100.3F, reported it to Doctors Without Borders and the New York City health department and was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. Soon after he tested positive for Ebola.
He became weak, lost 20lb and his liver was failing. Meanwhile, he was subjected to public criticism, including from the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, who suggested he had been careless.
But less than three weeks after his diagnosis, Spencer was released from hospital after being declared Ebola-free. He said he was a “living example” of how established protocols to handle the disease had worked.