Yesterday Donald Trump inflicted himself on Norfolk, Virginia, just across the harbor from where I sit. Trump visited Norfolk for the photo op of the Navy hospital ship Comfort casting off to head to New York City. Trump desperately wants to remain the center of the news - such is what happens when one is a malignant narcissistic - and wants to rewrite history to hide the reality that when leadership was needed back in January, 2020, he miserably failed the test, Rather that act boldly when the first case of coronaviris appeared in the USA, Trump equivocated and lied, all standard mode of operation for a man who cares about no one but himself. Norfolk and the Navy needed Trump in town like a hole in the head but none of that mattered. It was all about the photo op for the narcissist. A long piece in The Guardian (it is a must read) looks at Trump's massive failure when it counted most. The lesson? Do not elect a reality TV personality to hold a critically important position. Every American who voted for Trump due to his pandering to their prejudices, racism and bigotry shares a responsibility for the disaster that continues to unfold. Here are article excerpts:
When the definitive history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the date 20 January 2020 is certain to feature prominently. It was on that day that a 35-year-old man in Washington state, recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus.On the very same day, 5,000 miles away in Asia, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea. The confluence was striking, but there the similarities ended.
In the two months since that fateful day, the responses to coronavirus displayed by the US and South Korea have been polar opposites.
One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.
Within a week of its first confirmed case, South Korea’s disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to the medical equivalent of a war-planning summit and told them to develop a test for the virus at lightning speed. A week after that, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.
Some 357,896 tests later, the country [South Korea] has more or less won the coronavirus war. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million.
The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state, Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster.
It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process.
Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed across the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table – above even China.
More than a quarter of those cases are in New York City, now a global center of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Orleans also raising alarm. Nationally, 1,301 people have died.
Most worryingly, the curve of cases continues to rise precipitously, with no sign of the plateau that has spared South Korea.
“The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”
[T]he White House had all the information it needed by the end of January to act decisively. Instead, Trump repeatedly played down the severity of the threat, blaming China for what he called the “Chinese virus” and insisting falsely that his partial travel bans on China and Europe were all it would take to contain the crisis.
“We didn’t use that time [the six week period] optimally, especially in the case of testing,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University medical center. “We have been playing reluctant catch-up throughout.”
As Schaffner sees it, the stuttering provision of mass testing “put us behind the eight-ball” right at the start. “It did not permit us, and still doesn’t permit us, to define the extent of the virus in this country.”
In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. “I believe the CDC was caught flat-footed,” was how the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put it on 7 March. “They’re slowing down the state.”
The CDC’s botched rollout of testing was the first indication that the Trump administration was faltering as the health emergency gathered pace. Behind the scenes, deep flaws in the way federal agencies had come to operate under Trump were being exposed.
In 2018 the pandemic unit in the national security council – which was tasked to prepare for health emergencies precisely like the current one – was disbanded. . . . . Disbanding the unit exacerbated a trend that was already prevalent after two years of Trump – an exodus of skilled and experienced officials who knew what they were doing.
“There’s been an erosion of expertise, of competent leadership, at important levels of government,” a former senior government official told the Guardian.
“Over time there was a lot of paranoia and people left and they had a hard time attracting good replacements,” the official said. “Nobody wanted to work there.” . . . . It was hardly a morale-boosting gesture when Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on 10 February – 11 days after the World Health Organization had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the diagnostic tests and will control any new treatments for coronavirus, has also shown vulnerabilities. The agency recently indicated that it was looking into the possibility of prescribing the malaria drug chloroquine for coronavirus sufferers, even though there is no evidence it would work and some indication it could have serious side-effects.
The decision dismayed experts, given that Trump has personally pushed the unproven remedy on a whim. It smacked of the wave of anti-science sentiment sweeping federal agencies under this presidency.
As the former senior official put it: “We have the FDA bowing to political pressure and making decisions completely counter to modern science.”
Trump has designated himself a “wartime president”. But if the title bears any validity, his military tactics have been highly unconventional. He has exacerbated the problems encountered by federal agencies by playing musical chairs at the top of the coronavirus force.
On 24 February, Trump claimed “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. The next day, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s top official on respiratory diseases, took the radically different approach of telling the truth, warning the American people that “disruption to everyday life might be severe”.
Trump was reportedly so angered by the comment and its impact on share prices that he shouted down the phone at Messonnier’s boss, the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar.
“Messonnier was 100% right. She gave a totally honest and accurate assessment,” Konyndyk told the Guardian. And for that, Trump angrily rebuked her department. “That sent a very clear message about what is and isn’t permissible to say.”
Konyndyk recalls attending a meeting in mid-February with top Trump administration officials present in which the only topic of conversation was the travel bans. That’s when he began to despair about the federal handling of the crisis.
“I thought, ‘Holy Jesus!’ Where’s the discussion on protecting our hospitals? Where’s the discussion on high-risk populations, on surveillance so we can detect where the virus is. I knew then that the president had set the priority, the bureaucracy was following it, but it was the wrong priority.”
In a phrase that will stand beside 20 January 2020 as one of the most revelatory moments of the history of coronavirus, he said: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves.”
To date, the Trump administration has supplied 400 ventilators to New York. By Cuomo’s estimation, 30,000 are needed.
“We are seeing the emergence of 50-state anarchy, because of a total vacuum of federal leadership. It’s absurd that thinktanks and Twitter are providing more actionable guidance in the US than the federal government, but that’s where we are.”
Early on in the crisis, Griffeth said, it dawned on her and many of her peers that the federal government to which they would normally look to keep them safe was nowhere to be seen. They resigned themselves to a terrible new reality.
What is most distressing is that the death toll in rural areas and many red states that put Trump in office will likely be far less severe than in urban areas where voters knew Trump was incompetent and unfit for office and voted for Hillary Clinton who would have relied on experts rather than boasting and lying on Twitter.