March has certainly been a busy month. An “invisible enemy,” as the president calls it, really has turned our society on its head. The only thing I ever hear about these days is social distancing, working from home, testing kits and aunties’ WhatsApp groupchats offering “the cure for Mrs. Rona.”
Being the current year, bringing politics into just about every aspect of life is the chique thing to do. Whether that is good or bad is debatable, but there is, at the very least, one benefit for me in that there are many things I can talk about, because everything is politics. Making the Earth a better place to live? That’s political. Declaring human rights? Yep, political. Fighting a global pandemic? Oh buddy, you betcha that’s political.
I’m joking, of course, but I do feel that being critical (not necessarily being baldly political) is a good thing. Blindly following a leader with no chance to speak up (or out) against what could be a bad decision is destined for disaster. It’s hard, especially when panic and uncertainty grip your community, to not latch on and ask for comfort from a person in power, but it’s extremely important to keep calm and carry on.
Today, and practically since this pandemic began, I feel that too many have not criticized the current leadership enough for the crisis we face, especially since there is a kind of precedent for dealing with it. I will go through the asinine actions this administration took amidst a foretold pandemic compared to steps the Obama Administration took in a semi-comparable case six years ago with the Ebola virus.
To start with, many experts had already suggested the U.S. is ill-prepared for a health crisis because of bureaucracy. The U.S. has many different departments that work on various aspects of public health. For instance, the CDCworks to identify and create vaccines for diseases and the FDA tests medications and vaccines to determine their worth. Division of labor is good in creating efficiency, but only in those specialized areas the labor covers. If there is not a leader organizing and maintaining communication between the various departments, then gridlock is inevitable.
This was a major problem with the Ebola virus in 2014. To remedy this, President Obama set up a position in the National Security Council called the Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biothreats who would serve to coordinate the various government departments against any disease crisis.
The Washington Post emphasized the position’s importance in health crises, “‘Health security is very fragmented, with many different agencies,’ said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘It means coordination and direction from the White House is terribly important.’” Where is the Senior Director in the COVID-19 crisis? Well, that position no longer exists. In 2018, President Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton restructured the NSC to “streamline” the council; the Senior Director’s office was apparently determined to be vestigial.
But what of actual health cases? Sure the Senior Director was ousted, but the core health departments were intact and funded (albeit less so) and can still work in the event of a pandemic — they can even work with health teams around the globe. Much to our immune system’s disappointment, “global cooperation” is just not in the cards.
Back in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) had developed and was shipping tests to 60 countries. This was before the first non-travel related COVID-19 case occurred in the U.S., and so very early in this saga. The U.S., interestingly, declined to use the tests put out by the WHO, instead opting to develop and produce their own tests; a fact the administration has never answered for. The staggering bit is not only the fact the U.S. was willing to delay the creation, dissemination and use of tests, but that the tests the U.S. did come up with were faulty, providing inconclusive results. Politico reported “the government’s incapacity to conduct widespread testing slowed diagnoses, creating chains of infection. It also deprived epidemiologists of a map that could have told them how far and how fast the virus was traveling and where they should concentrate efforts to slow it down.” This alone is a reason to hold this government in contempt.
There is more, of course. Ignoring, for the moment, the snail-paced distribution of tests and instead looking at the actual use, there was complete ineptitude on the part of the administration here as well. The initial criteria to determine who would get a test was incredibly restrictive and delayed many diagnoses. The rules had stated: “the patient must have had recent travel to China or contact with someone known to be infected,” which led to “doctors nationwide complain[ing] of a bottleneck, both because of the restrictive test criteria and because of the [CDC’s] limited testing capacity. The agency said it had the capacity to test about 400 specimens a day.” A rate of 400 people getting a test per day in a country of 320 million is so laughable it borders on obscene. With rates of testing so low and a criterion being that a person had to have been in contact with an infected person, is it any wonder why so many people went untested and contagious?
Contrast this with Ebola, where within days of the first case in the U.S., people identified as having come in contact with other infected people were tracked, monitored and given instructions on things like travel and socializing. Rapid response teams were also sent to hospitals with new cases, and secondary ones were sent to at-risk hospitals — hospitals deemed most likely to see a case. The Obama administration essentially blanketed hospitals and individuals under a cover of medical caution and readiness.
All of this is compounded by the fact that the president seemed to have no air of seriousness attached to this crisis. It was only last week that the president acknowledged the levity of the virus by admitting everything was not under control. Repeatedly, and with support from his penchant right-wing commentariat, the president downplayed the seriousness of the spread and aggressive viral nature of the disease. For almost all of January, the President consistently referred to the virus as being “under control.” This line of commentary continued into February, where Trump committed a “Washington gaffe” in admitting his optimism was directed not to the American people, but the stock market when he tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA...CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” That week the Dow Jones lost 4,000 points.
Fox commentators have been deservedly criticized in following the president’s lead. Commentators downplayed the virus with the same narrative as the president by asserting their astute, yet nonexistent medical knowledge and assuming the position this virus is nothing more than bio-munition in a Democrat-led coup d’etat. Sean Hannity definitively asserted that “sadly, these viruses pop up from time to time. Pandemics happen, time to time” while Trish Regan of Fox Business went so far as to claim the virus is nothing more than “another attempt to impeach the president.” “Fair and Balanced” not in the slightest, but most definitely unafraid to say anything.
This pandemic is hopefully only a once-in-a-lifetime event, that once the sun sets on this crazy chapter of history, a new day of refreshed optimism in the future sweeps about the world. Although the Trump administration failed in almost every regard in the first steps in combating the virus, I have no doubt that viral clouds will break and we can all return to normalcy. Yet, it should not be forgotten how our leadership failed us in times of crisis. See the silver lining, and let it be a referendum on the president. Let the call for new leadership make itself heard.