cdc trump red tape

Illustration by Brian Stauffer for Rolling Stone

 

The White House’s inability to track the disease as it spread across the nation crippled the government’s response and led to the worst disaster this country has faced in nearly a century

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, flanked Donald Trump at the podium in the White House briefing room. It was February 29th, the day of the first reported U.S. death from the coronavirus, and the president fielded an urgent question: “How should Americans prepare for this virus?” a reporter asked. “Should they go on with their daily lives? Change their routine? What should they do?”

In that moment, America was flying blind into a pandemic; the virus was on the loose, and nobody quite knew where. The lives of tens of thousands hinged on the advice about to be delivered by the president and his top public-health advisers. Trump began: “Well, I hope they don’t change their routine,” before he trailed off, and, quite uncharacteristically, called on an expert to finish the response. “Bob?” he said. “Do you want to answer that?”

A tall man, with a tan, freckled head, and a snow-white chinstrap beard, Redfield stepped to the podium. “The risk at this time is low,” Redfield told the country. “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives.”

This reassurance came at precisely, and tragically, the wrong time. With a different answer, much of the human devastation that was about to unfold in the United States would have been avoidable. Academic research from Imperial College in London, modeling the U.S. response, estimates that up to 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented had the U.S. moved to shut down by March 2nd. Instead, administration leaders dragged their feet for another two weeks, as the virus continued a silent, exponential assault. By early May, more than 75,000 Americans were dead.

Even as he spoke, Redfield knew the country should be taking a different course. The Coronavirus Task Force had resolved to present the president with a plan for mitigation efforts, like school and business closures, on February 24th, but reportedly reversed course after Trump exploded about the economic fallout. Instead, the CDC director continued touting “aggressive containment” to Congress on February 27th. Experts tell Rolling Stone that ship had sailed when the virus made the leap from infected travelers into the general public. “If you’ve got a community spreading respiratory virus, it’s not going to be containable,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “You have to shift to mitigation right away.”

Patty Murray is the ranking member of the Senate’s top health committee, and represents Washington state, the nation’s first coronavirus hot spot. She blames the administration for a delay that “overwhelmed the health care system and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.” And she singles out Redfield, in particular, for “dereliction of duty.”

Despite months of alarms that the coronavirus was lurking at our doorstep, the Trump administration failed to mount an urgent response until the nation was engulfed and overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“We had ample notice to get our country ready,” says Ron Klain, who served as President Obama’s Ebola czar, and lists the rolling out of testing, securing protective equipment, and building up hospital capacity as necessary preventative steps. “We spent all of January and February doing none of those things, and as a result, when this disease really exploded  in March, we weren’t prepared.”(Tim Dickinson)

Posted by The non-Conformist