Sunday, April 12, 2020

6 takeaways on how COVID-19 spread because of what was not done and not understood by Trump and his administration

Let’s start with the first 5.

Michael D. Shear at the NY Times reports Five Takeaways on What Trump Knew as the Virus Spread. An examination by The New York Times reveals that there were warnings from the intelligence community, national security aides and government health officials — even as the president played down the crisis.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for this NY Times tip.)

WASHINGTON — Top White House advisers as well as experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies all sounded alarms and urged aggressive action to counter the threat from the coronavirus, but President Trump remained slow to respond, a detailed examination of the government’s response found.

Mr. Trump’s views were colored by long-running disputes inside the administration over how to deal with China and his own suspicion of the motivations of officials inside what he viewed as the “Deep State.” And recommendations from public health officials often competed with economic and political considerations in internal debates, slowing the path toward belated decisions.

Interviews with dozens of current and former officials and a review of emails and other documents reveal the key turning points as the Trump administration struggled to get ahead of the virus, rather than just chase it, and the internal debates that presented Mr. Trump with stark choices along the way.

I’m going to list the five takeaways in bullet form because I want to spend more space here on what I think is number six.

  • Intelligence agencies and the N.S.C. produced early warnings. National Security Council officials received the warnings in early January about the potential dangers from a new virus in Wuhan, China.
  • Trump was told of a memo saying 500,000 “American souls” could die. Peter Navarro, the president’s top trade adviser, wrote a searing memo at the end of January arguing that a pandemic caused by the virus could cost the United States dearly, producing as many as half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses.
  • Three weeks were lost at a crucial time. By the third week in February, the administration’s top public health officials had concluded that it was time to begin shifting to a more aggressive strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus, including social distancing, stay-at-home orders and school closures. … It would be three more weeks before Mr. Trump finally recommended aggressive social distancing guidelines, a period when the virus spread largely unimpeded and the task force was trying to avoid alarmist messages like the one that had angered the president.
  • Experts in and out of government were alarmed at the failure to take swifter action. Throughout January and February, a group of academics, government physicians and infectious diseases doctors — including Trump administration officials — expressed alarm at the ferocity of the coronavirus
  • The White House was divided over how to respond. The president was surrounded by divided factions in March even as it became clearer that avoiding more aggressive steps to stop the spread of the virus was not tenable. … Later, Mr. Trump reflected on that period of debate among his advisers, saying: “Everybody questioned it for a while, not everybody, but a good portion questioned it,” adding: “They said, let’s keep it open. Let’s ride it.”

And now America is riding it because of those five screwups. The ride is not yet over.

Here is my nomination for Takeaway #6.

Aaron Rupar writing at shows that Trump is woefully confused about why more coronavirus testing is vital. Trump wants to relax social distancing ASAP. His latest briefing showed he doesn’t understand how to get there.

There’s a lot of quotes from Trump showing how little he understands what needs to be done - other than to undo what progress has been made by social distancing and aggressive testing. Here’s the capper.

Trump, however, seems resolved to plow forward with trying to restore the economy even in the absence of more testing. Asked on Friday what metrics he’ll use to decide when to relax social distancing, Trump pointed to his head and said, “the metric is right here. That’s my metrics. That’s all I can do.”

“I have a big decision coming up, and I only hope to God that’s it’s the right decision,” he added, alluding to his deliberations about when it will be appropriate to recommend the relaxation of social distancing.

And we are expected to trust the guy who presided over the inaction that resulted in America becoming the number one country for COVID–19 deaths. Really?

You might as well put your money on God because Trump’s a very bad bet.

Read more from Rupar’s report.

One exchange during Friday’s White House coronavirus press briefing illustrated that President Donald Trump still fundamentally misunderstands why widespread and readily available testing is so crucial to his goal of getting the economy back up and running again.

Asked by NBC’s Peter Alexander how he could possibly know that the coronavirus “will soon be in full retreat” without widespread testing, Trump said he’ll know because “people aren’t going to go to the hospital, people aren’t going to get sick.”

“You’re gonna see nobody’s gonna be getting sick anymore,” Trump continued. “It will be gone and it won’t be that much longer.”

What Trump overlooked, however, is that the coronavirus can be spread by people without symptoms. So merely testing people who are already sick will not be sufficient to stop the spread. Those who have come into contact with others who have tested positive will also need to be tested to make sure they aren’t unwittingly spreading the virus.

Public health experts understand this. As my colleague German Lopez detailed, new plans about what comes after the current period of stringent social distancing put together by the left-leaning Center for American Progress and right-leaning American Enterprise Institute both emphasize that “widespread testing will let public health officials detect and subsequently contain any future outbreaks before everything has to be locked down.” But the US is currently only completing about 130,000 tests per day on average — a far cry from the 500,000 or so experts agree will be necessary to contain the coronavirus until a vaccine is available.

At another point during Friday’s briefing, Trump claimed that “vast areas of the country” are not experiencing outbreaks on the scale of New York or Louisiana and therefore “do not need” to conduct widespread testing.

“You don’t need testing there,” Trump said.

But with the virus having already spread to all 50 states, widespread testing will be needed to prevent future outbreaks from spiraling out of control. His comments also omit that, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said earlier Friday, more testing capacity will be needed to get New York’s economy back up and running. Cuomo suggested that Trump should use the Defense Production Act to compel private companies to manufacture test kits.

Trump’s misguided comments about testing on Friday came one day after he categorically denied the necessity of a nationwide testing system.

“We have a great testing system. Right now, we have the best testing system in the world,” Trump said, ignoring that the US is still testing far fewer people per capita than countries that are having more success fighting the coronavirus, like South Korea and Japan.

The irony of all this is that nobody is pushing harder to relax social distancing than Trump, who faces a tough reelection fight this year that will be made more difficult unless the wreckage of the economy is put back together relatively quickly. In fact, Trump closed his briefing on Friday by insisting that “we have to get back to work. We have to get our country open.”

“I have a big decision coming up, and I only hope to God that’s it’s the right decision,” he added, alluding to his deliberations about when it will be appropriate to recommend the relaxation of social distancing.

Public health experts widely agree that more robust coronavirus testing is the quickest means to that end. Trump not only doesn’t get that, but he is actively working at cross purposes: The federal government ended funding for local coronavirus testing sites on Friday. And when Trump was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta on Friday about officials like Cuomo who say that more testing capacity is needed, Trump went on the attack, admonishing Acosta that “you shouldn’t be asking that kind of a question … it is very insulting to a lot of great people.”

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