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Example of Trump incompetence: Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded

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David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan, and Michael Crowley report in the NY Times:

The outbreak of the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.

That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,” was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.

The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.

The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.

Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country. And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders. Three times over the past four years the U.S. government, across two administrations, had grappled in depth with what a pandemic would look like, identifying likely shortcomings and in some cases recommending specific action.

In 2016, the Obama administration produced a comprehensive report on the lessons learned by the government from battling Ebola. In January 2017, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.

The full story of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is still playing out. Government officials, health professionals, journalists and historians will spend years looking back on the muddled messages and missed opportunities of the past three months, as President Trump moved from dismissing the coronavirus as a few cases that would soon be “under control” to his revisionist announcement on Monday that he had known all along that a pandemic was on the way.

What the scenario makes clear, however, is that his own administration had already modeled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory.

The White House defended its record, saying it responded to the 2019 exercise with an executive order to improve the availability and quality of flu vaccines, and that it moved early this year to increase funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ program that focuses on global pandemic threats.

But officials have declined to say why the administration was so slow to roll out broad testing or to move faster, as the simulations all indicated it should, to urge social distancing and school closings.

Asked at his news briefing on Thursday about the government’s preparedness, Mr. Trump responded: “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.”

The work done over the past five years, however, demonstrates that the government had considerable knowledge about the risks of a pandemic and accurately predicted the very types of problems Mr. Trump is now scrambling belatedly to address.

Crimson Contagion, the exercise conducted last year in Washington and 12 states including New York and Illinois, showed that federal agencies under Mr. Trump continued the Obama-era effort to think ahead about a pandemic.

But the planning and thinking happened many layers down in the bureaucracy. The knowledge and sense of urgency about the peril appear never to have gotten sufficient attention at the highest level of the executive branch or from Congress, leaving the nation with funding shortfalls, equipment shortages and disorganization within and among various branches and levels of government.

The October 2019 report in particular documents that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including a clear list of lessons learned — and then ignored.

Later in the article:

What is striking in reading Mr. Kirchhoff’s account today, however, is how few of the major faults he found in the American response resulted in action — even though the report was filled with department-by-department recommendations.

There were deficiencies “in personal protective equipment use, disinfection” and “social services for those placed under quarantine.”

There was confusion over travel restrictions, and the need “for a smoother sliding scale of escalation of government response, from local authorities acting on their own to local authorities acting with some federal assistance” to the full activation of the federal government.

The report concluded that “a minimum planning benchmark might be an epidemic an order of magnitude or two more difficult than that presented by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, with much more significant domestic spread.”

But one big change did come out of the study: The creation of a dedicated office at the National Security Council to coordinate responses and raise the alarm early.

“What I learned most is that we had to stand up a global biosecurity and health directorate, and get it enshrined for the next administration,” said Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2020 at 1:40 pm

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