The Coronavirus Government Watch Post is a new US RESIST NEWS blog post written by Sean Gray. The Post provides information and analysis of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. Wherever possible we seek to be supportive as the coronavirus threatens the health and economic welfare of our nation, and we need government leadership to deal with the virus crisis. However, we also will offer constructive criticism, as merited, of our government’s efforts.
For the fifth day in a row Covid-19 fatalities in the United States topped 1,000. Surgeon General Jerome Powell likened this week to Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in terms of its impact on American life. The nation is fast approaching its use of available personal protective equipment for health workers. Yet the federal government acts consistently in a way that causes confusion and discord. Donald Trump, the man at the helm of the disjointed efforts, has called himself a ‘’wartime president’’. Unlike the stoic leadership of FDR, Trump has spent an inordinate amount of time denying culpability and looking for scapegoats.
The parts of Donald Trump’s personality obsessed with image is ill-suited for combating a global pandemic. History will ultimately assign blame and credit for the coronavirus response with the benefit of hindsight. Administration finger pointing and blaming others at this juncture only distracts from more pressing business. It’s disheartening to see a president whose sole priority should be protecting American lives deflect blame towards other for his own failings. After a national emergency had been declared Trump said he ‘’didn’t take responsibility at all’’ despite the preponderance of evidence that his administration should have done more sooner. His tactic is true to form, but at least he’s taking the situation seriously.
Trump’s tone towards the states has remained relatively amicable by his standards. His actions have been far more confused. He had previously encouraged Vice President Pence to ignore Democratic governors who ‘’don’t treat them right’’ and aren’t appreciative, singling Michigan Governor Deborah Whitmer. The administration would eventually back off this position and send the Wolverine State 400 ventilators to deal with their growing number of cases. Trump has said the federal government isn’t a shipping clerk and that states should be seeking their own supplies. Many did just that, bidding against one another (and the feds), driving up the price and the economic toll of the outbreak. Colorado, for instance, secured 500 ventilators only to see the order canceled and go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. From that 500, Trump rerouted 100 ventilators back to Colorado, heaping praise on his Republican ally in the Senate, Corey Gardener. In some instances the president has doubted the validity of requests made by states. Without reason or evidence, Trump rejected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (a Democrat) request for 30,000 ventilators, saying he didn’t believe NY (the outbreak’s epicenter) needed that many. The inconsistencies in his treatment of red and blue states has raised speculation that Trump is playing politics with crucial medical supplies. However, North Carolina, a swing state with a vulnerable Republican Senate seat up in 2020, has received far fewer supplies than requested. Occam’s Razor posits that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one. No one would put it past Trump to capitalize off a disaster. But the inconsistencies in aid to states is most likely a reflection of the federal government’s disorganization and lack of preparation.
For a man as incorrigibly anti-science as Trump, he’s been surprisingly tolerant of his medical experts. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC’s top man on infectious diseases. Fauci acknowledged that though he and the president have their differences, ‘’Trump listens to [him]’’. He also made clear he is able to get through to Trump on substantive issues of the day. Fauci also has the unique distinction of contradicting the president in public and remaining in place. For example Trump has repeatedly touted hydrochlorquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a miracle drug for treating Covid-19. Fauci threw a wet blanket on that enthusiasm at a White House briefing by saying only anecdotal evidence exists of its efficacy. It is Trump’s contention that China should have told the world of coronavirus three months before they did. Fauci also bucked back against this by reminding the public that date would have been in September, before the Chinese knew they were dealing with a new virus. In a mercurial administration with staggering turnover, many presidential appointees have been fired or reassigned for less. That Trump has not similarly retaliated against scientific dissent is indicative that he recognizes the gravity of the situation and Fauci’s value to it. It’s also a far cry from the weeks he spent downplaying the threat of the virus and eschewing medical guidance, such as overriding the CDC recommendation in early March that the elderly and infirm refrain from air travel. In an era where common sense can’t be taken for granted, deference to the individuals most qualified to handle infectious diseases is a positive step.
Coronavirus news is not all gloom and doom though. A few holdouts aside, states have implemented social distancing measures that Americans have begrudgingly embraced. Such measures are beginning to show positive signs. Cases and deaths in New York and New Jersey remain high; more people have died in the two states than the rest of the US combined. However hospitalizations have increased in diminished numbers in recent days, suggesting that the curve is beginning to flatten. Neither state is out of the woods, but the news provides a sense of clarity and optimism that had previously been absent. The projected number of deaths in the country has also been lowered. An estimated 100,000-200,000 deaths has been reduced to 60,000 according to models cited by Dr. Fauci. He also noted that anti-body tests, which can determine which asymptomatic individuals have been infected would be available in the coming weeks. The week of April 11th is the date deaths are projected to peak in the US. But by all accounts, social distancing measures have had their intended effect and the tide is beginning to stem.