Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

America Is Broken and the Response to COVID-19 Highlights It

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David Wallace-Wells writes in New York:

What we are seeing right now is the collapse of civic authority and public trust at what is only the beginning of a protracted crisis. In the face of an onrushing pandemic, the United States has exhibited a near-total evacuation of responsibility and political leadership — a sociopathic disinterest in performing the basic function of government, which is to protect its citizens.

Things will get worse from here. According to a survey of epidemiologists released yesterday, the coronavirus outbreak probably won’t peak before May. That doesn’t mean it will be over by May, of course, but that it will be getting worse and worse and worse over the next two months, and for much of that time, presumably, exponentially worse. And so the suspension of the NBA season and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s announcement that they are sick with COVID-19 will seem, in relatively short order, like quite small potatoes. And for all of that time, the country’s response will be commanded and controlled by Donald Trump.

Trump is, of course, the last man in the world you would want in charge right now. In an extremely illuminating interview with Gabriel Debenedetti published this morning, Obama’s Ebola czar Ron Klain described his response to that threat, which he suggested was a relatively good model for how the U.S. might have responded to this one. That response began with 10,000 public-health workers sent to fight and investigate the disease. This administration has sent none, which means it has been, practically speaking, flying blind about the nature of the coronavirus and the challenges it represents to public-health systems. In fact, it’s worse than that; for all intents and purposes, the administration hasn’t been flying at all, spending the last three months sitting by entirely idle and indifferent, rather than scaling up testing regimes, issuing protocols, and preparing for a major surge of patients by developing contingency plans to expand hospital capacity around the country wherever it became needed. If reading about Ron Klain makes you wish he was still in charge, you are surely not alone. But the bigger issue isn’t that he has been replaced by a less competent figure. It’s that Trump had eliminated the office of pandemic response entirely, so that until he appointed Mike Pence — who had bungled Indiana’s response to an HIV crisis a few years ago — no one in the White House even had a pandemic disease portfolio. Why? It is hard to even imagine the reason, aside from the fact that the office was established under Obama and that this president has operated with such reflexive spite and even sadism toward anything his predecessor had touched, whatever the costs to the country—and even his own supporters.

It was just last night, in his disastrous speech, that Trump finally seemed to even take the outbreak seriously, and yet he seemed only capable of conceiving a “response” in terms of border control and tax cuts. This is a particular disease of the president’s, but it is also a representative one: Our leaders have spent so long focused on the value of economic growth they are likely to try to respond to any crisis, even a deeply urgent humanitarian one, as an economic problem to be solved with stimulus. What about hospital beds?

But the dysfunction goes much deeper than the president—even deeper than the levels of the bureaucracy that he touches, through appointments and executive directives. In a functional system, much of the preparation and messaging would have been undertaken by the CDC. In this case, it chose not to simply adopt the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 test kits — stockpiling them in the millions in the months we had between the first arrival of the coronavirus in China and its widespread appearance here — but to try to develop its own test. Why? It isn’t clear. But they bungled that project, too, failing to produce a reliable test and delaying the start of any comprehensive testing program by a few critical weeks.

The testing shortage is catastrophic: It means that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including some examples of how President Trump has deliberately crippled the Federal government’s ability to respond.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2020 at 9:21 am

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