How The Government Botched The COVID-19 Response. A Short Analysis

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Diamond Garcia-Alvarez, Reporter/Social Media Editor

COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising around the globe, and that’s taken over all media outlets rightfully so. It’s a novel virus causing significant illness and death, we have very little knowledge about this virus, and it’s spreading at a fast pace. Countries around the world are even  closing their borders. The Centers for Disease (CDC) highly recommends avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. Several U.S. states have closed restaurants and several citizens are working from home. Unfortunately, it seems like in the U.S. things are worse than they need to be. The person responsible for coordinating the American Response Pandemic is the President of the United States. As Donald Trump once said in 2013, “Leadership, what happens you’re responsible. If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible”. With local governments taking the lead in efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, President 

Trump has been criticized for his response, as well as his conduct in recent press briefings so far. 

“My administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat”.

We’re going to review the recent actions and conduct our President has committed with a critical, yet objective eye. We’ll determine whether the United States Government is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately. As well as if they have done enough, or if they’ve made matters worse. 

“By Failing To Prepare, You’re Preparing to Fail” Benjamin Franklin.

It’s one week before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, when Trump’s team participated in a role-playing exercise with Obama’s administration in which Trump’s administration prepares for a national emergency. These emergencies included situations such as cyber attacks, hurricanes, and pandemics. The purpose of this exercise was to show the President how to respond to an emergency, if such events were to happen. This included a scenario in which a flu-like substance spreads through Asia, Europe, then America. The players would have discussed resolutions such as vaccines, travel restrictions, and coordination with state and local government. The Trump administration was told “Pandemics can start in other countries and don’t respect borders. Science must guide decisions. Federal and state collaboration is key. Consistent messaging is key. Social distancing is recommended. The hours can matter”. The Obama Administration had one goal in mind. That was getting ready to battle the worst public health crisis since the 1918 public Influenza. Which public health officials thought was inevitable. If you’re inclined to dismiss this as “fake news” Politico has these documents from this missed opportunity. As you can see from this role-playing meeting, the Obama Administration had all the necessary responses in case of a national emergency. It would’ve been similar to the H1N1 Virus. Issues for discussion would include hospital preparedness, funding from Congress, and collaboration between State and Federal health officials. Although Trump’s cabinet was involved in the exercise, most of the 30 people who attended the meeting are no longer employed by the government. Trump may have said that “We were all surprised by the pandemic”, that would’ve been correct. As he dismissed all of the employees who weren’t surprised. Or disagree with him. Of course, the loss of qualified personnel in the government has been a persistent criticism of the Trump Administration. In May of 2018, when Trump disbanded the pandemic response team, which Obama created in order to get ready for a global pandemic. Trump was asked what responsibility he took for terminating the team, he took no ownership. Donald Trump’s denial of disbanding the pandemic response team didn’t go over too well with Senator Jared Brown (OH) who reminded him over social media “I wrote to you more than 600 days ago demanding answers after you fired the entire White House pandemic team”. It is somewhat ironic that President Trump has tweeted about Obama’s Ebola crisis several times. He’s criticized the former President for letting citizens with Ebola back into the country, complained about the fact that Obama flies people in for meetings, and has said Obama was “selfish for playing golf”. However, President Trump has continued to make more poorly timed budget cuts. President Donald Trump has:

Cut the Health and Human Services funding by 15%

Cut 1.2 billion dollars from the CDC 

Removed 35 million dollars in the Infectious Rapid Reserve Fund

The cuts were made under the notion that the government could always get them back if they were needed later on. However, as this has been published, that’s not the case. Despite warnings, the Trump Administration has been slow to recognise the dangers of this pandemic. 

You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See. 

Like Italy, the United States was slow to recognise the need for widespread testing. The administration’s unwillingness to ensure that as many people as possible got tested, and tested early before the virus got a chance to spread through the region. Within a week of its first case of COVID-19, South Korea had tested more than 66,000 people. Compared to the United States, we’ve only tested less than 30,000 people. Nonetheless, there’s a problem with the testing process. We’ve learned the hard way, there’s a policy trade off between extensive testing, and other measures. The more that you test, and the more that you can isolate the people that are infected, the less the population in general has to quarantine. Themselves. However, when you don’t have testing, then people need to isolate as a precautionary measure. As testing issues were also becoming more urgent, President Trump deflected on whether people should be testing themselves. Stating that the pandemic would go away in April. President Trump fixated on keeping the numbers low so it looked as if we were having less cases. When asked by a CNN reporter “What do you say to America who are watching right now? Trump avoids the question. In a recent press briefing, the president walks out when confronted by two female reporters asking a COVID-19 related question. It’s not clear whether the Trump Administration has fostered an environment where experts are allowed to object without oppression. There have been reports where officials have been prevented from talking to the president, and were unable to make public statements. Although President Trump theoretically said he’d bring back the employees he fired from the pandemic response office. When it came time to manage the situation, he turned to Mike Pence. As the Governor of Indiana, Pence delayed the introduction of needle exchanges, even though officials warned that it would cause an HIV outbreak. Which happened and led to Indiana’s worst HIV outbreak. Pence stated that anyone in America could be tested. However, that’s not the case, and currently isn’t. Declaring a National Emergency allows the president to have access to FEMA’s 40 million dollar disaster relief fund. Under the Stafford Act, the President can give law enforcement agencies more authority than they already have. Although many people suggested that President Trump takes steps, these actions would be more appropriate for a National Emergency. So instead at the time, Trump turned to his Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner. In addition, if declaring a National Emergency was appropriate, Kushner turned to his family for medical advice. In Particular, he turned to Kurt Kloss, who’s daughter, Karlie Kloss, was married to Kushner’s brother. Dr. Kloss turned to Facebook. And as a Kushner salt of the information he obtained from a Facebook group, Kloss sent 12 recommendations that were evidently passed to the White House. While these suggestions may in fact be legitimate, the questionable method of obtaining this information to deal with a Worldwide pandemic shows a lack of preparation to put it mildly. 

The Opposite of Domestic Tranquility. 

Mistakes are not limited to the Executive branch. The Senate has taken multiple breaks during this crisis. Senators have been concerned if they fly out of the capital, they won’t be able to fly back. Yet, many senators have taken these breaks as an opportunity to go back to their constituents. Another political agenda is that this administration has unnecessarily been obsessed with keeping information relating to COVID-19 confidential, rather than sharing it with those who can help. There are reports that internal pandemic discussions are classified which of course limits their accessibility, and reach. The head of the CDC Robert Redfield testified that public officials discuss COVID-19 information in classified areas on occasions “Too numerous to count”. Additional reports indicate that the Department of Health and Human Services treated top level COVID-19 meetings as classified, and those without security credentials were excluded from those discussions. It seems by March that Donald Trump took this situation more seriously. Around March 11th, Trump gave his first nationally televised speech on the subject. The most memorable part of this speech was the European travel restriction. Unfortunately, large portions of this speech turned out to be incorrect or fabrication. First, President Trump said that all travel too and from Europe was being banned. When he was exempting Ireland and the United Kingdom. He also stated that cargo overseas was also being banned when that also  wasn’t the case. Finally, he claimed to have worked out a deal with insurance companies to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing. The travel ban, and lack of clarity surrounding itself in particular had some severe consequences as well. As there’s pictures and videos across the internet of Americans waiting in long lines in the airports, which are now under federal jurisdiction. These facilities cannot handle the overwhelming number of international travelers, who are now required to receive the COVID-19 screaning. Which has caused thousands of people to be confined in various small spaces. Two days after his address, Trump announced he was signing an emergency declaration due to the pandemic. The National Emergency Declaration now allows the President to make vital decisions that many in the medical industry have been wanting for a long time. Under the Stafford Act, the President can now use those FEMA accounts for a variety of essential items. Including needed medical equipment. The Emergency Declaration also allows the President to waive Medicare and Medicaid requirements, including payment limitations for out of network providers in certifications. While the speech was well received, causing stock prices to increase dramatically, Trump was seen shaking hands with members of his administration, touching the microphone, and touching his face during a speech about a speech regarding a pandemic. Which is ironic, given that the speech took place where Trump looked at the eclipse back in 2017. The speech did cause some uncertainty though. President Trump stated that Americans soon would soon be able to go to their local testing sites in places like their local Walmart parking lots. This was unfortunately premature, as representatives of Walmart and their major companies said they had no idea how the test would be conducted. Let alone, when it would be available. President Trump also announced that Google was developing a website where Americans could input their symptoms and find out if a test was necessary, and be directed to a testing site near their home. That was news to Google  which said that Google didn’t have those plans. It’s sister site Verily was in the early stages of development of a website that would be for the San Francisco area, and that project itself wasn’t finished. Other measures are being taken as well. Such as low interest rates, and mortgage and rent freeze. 

I think we’re all on the same page with hoping this disease is eradicated and preventing the loss of additional lives. However, there’s a difference between handling something effectively, and trying to control the narrative to make it seem as if the situation is being handled. The President stated at a fund-raiser “They’re trying to scare everyone from meetings, cancel the meetings, close the schools — you know, destroy the country. And That’s okay, as long as we can win the election but I really believe that if they see the Trump Administration is handling this virus in a professional, confident way, I don’t believe it’s going to hurt us”. We saw this unfolding in other countries first. We’re not the first country to be struck with COVID-19, and we should’ve been more prepared. It looks like the government is finally starting to take this pandemic seriously. But to date, Nobody would claim that the government’s response would’ve been perfect. But just because the United States Government doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing, it doesn’t mean that we can’t get through this together. We will if we stay together. The best thing that you can do is stay home.