by Tony Wyman
Trump Was Not Blindsided By COVID-19
On 7 February 2020, the U.S. Department of State issued a press statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasting of the contribution of critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) the United States was making to help the Chinese fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This week the State Department has facilitated the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials. These donations are a testament to the generosity of the American people.
Today, the United States government is announcing it is prepared to spend up to $100 million in existing funds to assist China and other impacted countries, both directly and through multilateral organizations, to contain and combat the novel coronavirus. This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak.
In the meantime, while the White House was preparing to ship medical goods in short supply in our country to China and other nations impacted by the virus outbreak, the Trump Administration sat on its hands and did little to nothing to prepare American hospitals for the coming pandemic about to fill their emergency departments.
Now, after months of inactivity, the United States, not some third world country with scant resources or a primitive health care system, is leading the world in covid-19 cases.
“We inherited an obsolete broken old system that wasn’t meant for this. We discarded that system and we now have a new system that can do millions of people as you need them, but we had to get rid of a broken old system that didn’t work,” claimed Mr. Trump during one of his newly revived daily press briefings, deflecting responsibility for the nation’s dismal response to the virus threat to former president Barack Obama.
But, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Global Health Security Index, the president’s claim was false. In fact, the reality is Mr. Trump was handed the world’s best health system for dealing effectively with an outbreak like the novel coronavirus, he just chose not to use it.
Even the president himself recognized this. “Johns Hopkins, highly respected, … they did a study, comprehensive, the countries best and worst prepared for an epidemic,” the president said during a briefing at the White House. “And the United States, we’re rated No. 1.”
While the average nation rated a score of 40.2 and the average high-income country scored a 51.9, the United States scored a world best 83.5. Even more important, the U.S. ranked first in the world in the ability to detect a virus outbreak with a nearly perfect score of 98.5 out of 100.
China’s rating was a poor 48.5, ranking it 64th in the world, ranking it behind such countries as Laos, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Rated the Best, Performing the Worst
How is it, then, the United States, the world’s leader in health security, is now also the world’s leader in number of novel coronavirus cases?
If the U.S. was the most prepared nation on the planet, boasting an economy “the greatest in the history of the country,“ according to Mr. Trump, and benefiting from the world’s best intelligence service, how could the country have caught so badly with its proverbial pants down?
The reality is President Trump and his administration failed at their most fundamental task, keeping America safe, because of a level of arrogant indifference and unprecedented irresponsibility never seen before coming from the Oval Office.
First, the White House gave away tons of critically needed medical PPE and equipment in short supply in hospitals across the country that could be protecting American health workers and saving the lives of American patients.
Then, while benefiting their Chinese counterparts, the Trump Administration ignored and downplayed numerous warnings from its own intelligence sources warning that a major crisis was coming the nation’s way.
This president and his administration that once issued the Muslim Ban, executive order 13769, ostensibly to protect the nation from “foreign terrorists,” effectively did nothing while the CIA warned that a foreign threat potentially hundreds of times more deadly than 9/11 was heading America’s way. (As of this writing, there were 2438 deaths in the U.S. attributed to the novel coronavirus. Deaths on 9/11 totaled 2996.)
“Suffice it to say, the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat,” wrote Micah Zenko, formerly of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning and a Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations until 2017.
“The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.”, added Zenko.
Why did officials ignore the warnings of the intelligence community issued repeatedly for two months? According to Mr. Zenko, “These alerts made little impact upon senior administration officials, who were undoubtedly influenced by President Donald Trump’s constant derision of the virus, which he began on Jan. 22″:
“’We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.'”
Considering the fate of past officials who disagreed with the president’s view of an issue, it isn’t surprising that few staffers wanting to keep their jobs kept quiet as the threat of the virus grew greater.
So far, in less than four years in office, President Trump is on his fourth chief of staff, fourth deputy chief of staff, fifth communications director, fourth national security advisor and his sixth deputy national security advisor. In addition, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, his second Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and his Secretary of Defense, Gen. Jim Mattis, all resigned under pressure after disagreeing with the president.
Trump Administration Warned in 2018 and 2019
But even before the novel coronavirus became a hot political issue, the intelligence community warned Trump officials the nation was not prepared for a massive pandemic like the one the nation now faces. “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” Mr. Trump claimed March 19th.
Not true. The reality is his administration did know as far back as 2017.
In fact, the Trump Administration ran a simulation in 2019 that predicted how unprepared the U.S. was to face the threat now ruining our economy and threatening our people. The New York Times reported on the simulation, presciently called “Crimson Contagion,” explaining how the exercise involved a dozen states, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council.
Run by the Department of Health and Human Services, the simulation studied what would happen if an influenza pandemic started in China and spread untreated to the United States.
The result, determined by the simulation, was 7.7 million Americans would be hospitalized, leaving 586,000 dead, the equivalent of more than one-hundred-ninety-five 9/11-sized terrorist attacks.
The fictional Crimson Contagion virus simulation prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend many of the stopgap measures they have suggested for dealing with today’s novel coronavirus outbreak: social distancing, closing schools, entertainment venues and other areas of mass gatherings, working from home and reducing the numbers of people leaving home to only those critical to keeping the nation running
The simulation also determined the nation was critically low on N95 respirators, depleted after the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak and never replaced by the Obama Administration, as well as other supplies, and didn’t have the infrastructure in place to efficiently produce the PPE hospitals would require to treat the millions of infected patients filling the nation’s hospitals.
“Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country,” the story from the Times recounted . “And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders.”
In fact, the Obama Administration ran a simulation of a nationwide flu pandemic for the benefit of incoming senior Trump Administration figures in 2017, seven days before the new and inexperienced president took office. In that exercise, outgoing experts simulated what a world-wide pandemic would look like. “Health officials warn that this could become the worst influenza pandemic since 1918,” reported Politico.
In documents reported by Politico here incoming Trump Administration figures were told they could face critical shortages of PPE, including respirators and masks, as well as drugs to treat the contagion. The simulation, like the one the Trump Administration itself ran, pointed out specific actions that the incoming figures should take to prevent the catastrophe the nation now faces.
Unfortunately, none of those actions were taken because of those present at the simulation, more than two-thirds were fired by the Trump Administration or quit before being terminated when National Security Adviser John Bolton disbanded the pandemic response team established by President Obama after the Ebola outbreak.
Mr. Trump may accept “[no] responsibility at all” for the damage the novel coronavirus pandemic will do to America’s economy and to the lives lost and destroyed by his administration’s inaction, but history will assign it to him, anyway.