It’s just awful, this cacophony of blather from partisan cable-tv personalities, talk radio commentators, biased and malevolent trolls on social media, and the shameful and just plain appalling rank ignorance of some public officials. This is no time for the country to be channeling Littlechap, the politically ambitious pretender, in Anthony Newley’s 1961 hit show, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.
Okay, there are many serious political officials trying to lead us through this nightmare. There are responsible Governors such as Hogan (R-Md.), Newsome, (D-CA) DeWine (R-Oh), Pritzker (D-Il), Inslee (D-WA), Cuomo (D-NY), Whitmer (D- MI) and, of course, many others. Drs. Anthony Fauci, Deborah Brix, Jerome Adams, and others, however, have their work cut out for them as they try to provide rational and useful information during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, they are all relegated to roles as bit players on the Daily Trump Show, that breathtaking dust-off between President Trump and those Governors and journalists who have the temerity to ask serious questions and speak solid but troublesome truths.
And this week when our top infectious disease professional, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said “we aren’t there yet” with respect to the level of testing we need if we are to safely open the country, the President of the United States responded, “if he said that, I disagree.” Well, give President Trump credit for sharing his learned opinion with the people. Who’s Dr. Fauci, anyway?
Deflection rules the day.
China and the World Health Organization (WHO) led us astray, the President’s acolytes on talk radio and cable tv tell us. Actually, a deep dive into the available record tells a, somewhat, different story. China did, indeed, initially try to limit the damage and manage news to the public. Nonetheless, China informed our Center for Disease Control (CDC) within barely a week of confirming that a virulent, but still small, viral outbreak (27 cases) had been identified in Wuhan, a city of 12 million.
Officials in China, during the last week of December last year, confirmed that a small number of patients had turned up at Hubei Provincial Hospital with similar lung distress symptoms that were not consistent with previously known cases of pneumonia. China informed the United States CDC of this outbreak and of its severity between January 1st and January 3rd of the New Year. So, the US Center for Disease Control in Atlanta was notified of these first cases of what would soon be identified as Covid-19 within four to six days of these patients presenting themselves to the hospital in Wuhan China. On January 7th, 2020, the US CDC established a Covid-19 incident Management Structure. So, we knew something serious was unfolding remarkably soon after the first cases were being studied in China. China also, simultaneously, forwarded the information about this new viral outbreak on to the World Health Organization.
While there is a lot about which to criticize both China and the World Health Organization with respect to their public statements in the early days of the outbreak, keeping the news from the United States and the rest of the world is not a valid criticism. One might wonder whether President Trump would have directed our CDC to inform China and WHO had such a limited viral outbreak of unknown origin infected about two dozen people in, say, New York City, as quickly as China informed our CDC and WHO of just such an outbreak in Wuhan. Given how long it took the President to even acknowledge that we had a major problem percolating in America, there is room to doubt whether he would have announced such a problem to the world had the first few cases come to light here instead of there.
Think about it. Wuhan is somewhat larger than New York City and much smaller than the New York Metropolitan Area. Barely two dozen cases of what we now know as Covid-19, or Coronavirus, had been identified at the time the Chinese CDC contacted the Director of our CDC to inform him that a contagious virus of unknown origin had been identified in Wuhan. Now, it is true that China was also trying (and failing) to limit the news of the outbreak and trying to mitigate rumors, and doing so within China in a fairly heavy-handed way. But China did inform the United States as well the World Health Organization very quickly and very early once the contagion was confirmed and identified
Political partisans and point-of-view cable-tv and talk radio personalities are exhausting the public as they hyperventilate with coverage either critical of the President or defensive of the President. And, of course, President Trump provides fodder for the media on a daily, if not hourly, basis. His daily briefings, sometimes informative but too often breathtakingly inane, boggle the mind.
A public that needs solid information really doesn’t need the President of the United States hawking an unproven and potentially dangerous drug, or pronouncing the adequacy of inadequate levels of testing in the United States. Nor does the public need the President’s childish attacks on governors who dare to suggest any inadequacy in the availability of materials needed for testing.
Also, it does not inspire confidence to have President Trump speculating at his Coronavirus briefing about the efficacy of inserting UV light or sanitizing compounds into the human body, and then denying saying what millions of people saw and heard him say, or aver that he was only kidding once he realized (or was told) just how ridiculous what he had said was. The catatonic expression on Dr. Brix’s face gave eloquent testimony of her opinion of the President’s ramblings, as President Trump waxed inanely about UV light and disinfectants being introduced into the human body.
That being said, President Trump cannot reasonably be blamed for the botched rollout of testing in the United States. The CDC declined to utilize tests developed in Germany which were immediately offered to the United States by the World Health Organization. CDC decided to develop and distribute its own test, and, to make a much-reported story short, the test kits distributed by CDC turned out to be unreliable. This was tragic and resulted in about a six-week delay in testing in the United States—a very critical delay. As the delay in testing dragged on in the United States and the number of Covid-19 cases grew, the urgency for testing was simply compounding geometrically in the country.
To make matters worse, private labs and university labs that could provide testing were denied the okay to do so by the FDA, because of testing approval protocols that were totally unresponsive to the greatly escalating need for tests in the face of the rapidly escalating emergency. This was not a lapse in capability for which President Trump can reasonably be blamed. In fact, given the initial screw-ups, the United States has scaled up testing remarkably fast.
Nonetheless, Dr. Fauci was correct when he stated, “we are not there yet,” with respect to required testing levels in order to safely open the country. Public health experts believe we need to test about 150 people per 100,000 per day before we can open safely. We’re currently testing about 45 people per 100,000. To be sure, the testing scale-up in the United States has been impressive, given the hole out of which we had to dig.
President Trump’s contradiction of Dr. Fauci, however, was based on nothing more than his own political calculations and had no relevance whatever to the nation’s testing requirements in order to safely open the country. Despite President Trump’s desire to have the nation believe we are where we need to be with respect to testing, it just isn’t so. We’re barely about a third of the way to where we need to be on testing.
We simply need straight talk, Mr. President. Your daily Coronavirus briefings really are becoming reminiscent of Anthony Newley’s Littlechap in Stop the World I Want to Get Off. Please, no more “Mumbo, jumbo, rhubarb, rhubarb, tickety, bubarb, yak, yak, yak.“