Although U.S. President Donald Trump said said no one could have anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic, records show that he was repeatedly warned. He made light of the virus even after the first confirmed case in Washington state on January 22. At one of his rallies he even called it another “hoax” created by the Democrats. On numerous occasions he said it would go away. It hasn’t. Over and over again he said he has a plan and the situation is under control. He does not have a plan and the pandemic is clearly not under control.
Like climate change and hate, viruses predate this president, but Trump has the dubious distinction of making all three worse. To suggest that he could not have anticipated COVID-19 is not credible. Viruses are ubiquitous and humans have been periodically ravaged by virus-born diseases dating back to prehistory. There are many times more viruses on planet Earth than there are stars in the universe. They are everywhere but when these viruses hijack human hosts they can be devastating.
Some like the much publicized SARS outbreak was largely contained keeping the death toll relatively low at 774, while others like repeated outbreaks of Ebola have killed thousands. These outbreaks pale in comparison to plagues like Smallpox which killed 500 million between 1877 and 1977. In modern times we have seen the rise of a number of deadly viruses. In 1968 and 1969 Influenza A virus subtype H3N2 (Hong Kong flu) killed between 1 and 4 million. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed 32 million from 1981 to the present and in 2009 and 2010 the H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic killed between 151,700 and 575,400.
The point is the incidence of previous pandemics made it abundantly clear that we should expect another. A 1997 study in Nature is one of many that predicted it. So did the three presidents that preceeded Trump (Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton). Fifteen years ago president Bush said the following about pandemics, “Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland.” More recently a bipartisan report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, co-chaired by former Republican senator Kelly Ayotte, and Julie Gerberding, George W. Bush’s one-time director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was ironically titled “Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency”.
In 2017 Senator Elizabeth Warren and four other members of Congress warned the Health and Human Services secretary: “Actions taken by President Trump could also impair our readiness in the face of a public health crisis, such as a flu pandemic.”
As reported by Time, the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit — responsible for pandemic preparedness — was established in 2015 by Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. The unit was overseen by the National Security Council (NSC). In May 2018, the Washington Post reported that the team was disbanded and its head Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official in the NSC leading U.S. pandemic response, left the Trump administration.
The New York Times reported that the Trump administration ignored a more recent pandemic warning from White House economists. The economists issued their warning in a 2019 study that was ordered by the NSC and it predicted such an outbreak could cost the American economy as much as $3.8 trillion. A Times of Israel article indicated that US intelligence agencies alerted Israel to the coronavirus outbreak in China in November.
According to the LA Times,
Trump also ignored a NSC pandemic playbook written by the Obama administration in 2016. Two months before COVID-19 broke in Wuhan, China, the Trump administration ended a $200-million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat.
Although Trump has a track record of deriding science, research based approaches to understanding, tracking and managing this pandemic are precisely what is required. We need to employ 21st century methods of control through identification and isolation. In the longer term there may be vaccines but the initial step requires testing. As reported by CNN, Harvard researchers are saying the the U.S. must test 500,000 people per day. Currently only 150,000 are being tested across the the country. Despite calls for more testing from governors, the Trump administration has thus far refused to even consider testing at the required scale.
Now Trump is inciting violence in Democrat led state capitals through his reckless tweets supporting armed protestors who are demanding states reopen. To add another dangerous level of insanity to the mix Trump is also suggesting people should take hydroxychloroquine even though there is no scientific evidence supporting its use for COVID-19. The New York Times reports that the doctor who told Trump about this drug has been charged in a federal court.
As of the morning of April 19th, 740,746 Americans are confirmed to have contracted coronavirus representing an increase of 28, 562 in the last 24 hours. The number of dead is now at 39,158 an increase of 6,335 from the day before.
This article has been updated on April 19, 2020
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