March 14, 2020

US Covid-19 Screw-up: Trump is the Least of It.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

President Trump and his absurdly unhelpful, and initially idiotic remarks about the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak are not to blame for the public health crisis we currently face. Given that Congress refused to implement the President’s budget-cutting request for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the charge by Democrats that CDC funding was slashed by Trump is flat out wrong. Congress actually ignored Trump’s budget request to decrease the budget for CDC, and has, instead, consistently increased the funding for CDC. 

John Bolton, however, when he was National Security Advisor, did eliminate the Global Health Security and Biodefense directorate, which had been headed by Rear Admiral R. Timothy Ziemer.  Others, however, who reported to Ziemer assumed various of his duties in the reorganization. Allegations by Biden and other Democrats that Trump was to blame for the poor initial US response to the Covid-19 outbreak are simply wrong.

Then what was to blame?

Regulations and red tape at both the CDC and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) slowed testing to a crawl at the very time testing should have been rapidly accelerated. That’s why we’re still so far behind other countries in testing. Frantic requests for approval to test, especially in the State of Washington where the need was critical, were denied because of regulatory idiocy, given the clear urgency of the need to test. 

The Covid19 first appeared in China last November. It was first confirmed in the United States on January 21st of this year. Testing in the United States should have been robust many weeks ago. Testing is still far from robust and hard to access despite what we are told. Since last January perhaps a total of 15,000 people have been tested in the United States, with our population of 330 million people. In South Korea, a country of 50 million people, 20,000 are being tested every day. 

How Come?

The test kits first produced by CDC to detect the presence of Covid-19 were defective. While the problem has been resolved, precious weeks were lost in the process of correcting the faulty reagent used in the initial test kits. 

Meanwhile, the FDA seriously delayed testing by strictly adhering to its Emergency Use Protocol (EUA). Ordinarily, this is a sound procedure for approving labs to conduct tests in preparation for an emergency. In the presence of a critical, fast-moving viral outbreak, however, strict adherence to the FDA requirement was counterproductive.  There are reputable labs in the country, including the State of Washington, and, specifically, the University of Washington, that were capable and eager to begin testing. Ordinarily these FDA testing approvals take only a matter of days. For some reason, procedures for Covid-19 testing would have taken weeks, according to one assessment.

Alex Greninger, of the virology division at the University of Washington Medical Center, says clinical labs were not allowed to begin testing at all before they had received the EUA, even if they had already internally made sure their tests worked. Obviously, these protocols are in place to protect patients, but many microbiologists believe the precautions were excessive for a fast-moving outbreak of this magnitude. “The speed of this virus versus the speed of the FDA and the EUA process is mismatched,” Greninger said. This month, FDA finally began allowing reputable labs to start testing for covid-19. These testing snafu’s are why we are lagging other countries.

President Trump’s statements only a week or so ago were, nonetheless, counterproductive. Suggesting that the cases of Covid-19 “might” reduce to zero in a week or two, has greatly diminished the credibility with which he speaks. After all, nothing hurts credibility more than nonsense. And the President spoke pure nonsense to the American people. 

On the other hand, politicians, including Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden went way overboard trying to seize an opportunity from President Trump’s babble. Biden’s campaign quickly edited 120 of Trump’s words out of a video in which Trump expressed the view that the press and the Democrats were using the covid-19 outbreak in a hoax to scare the American people in order to bring him down. The Biden campaign’s edited video had Trump stating the Coronavirus itself was the hoax. President Trump never said that. What he did say, however, was bad enough. 

The United States did not and does not “have everything under control,” as Trump has stated. When asked whether we should be preparing to close schools, Trump responded, “I think every aspect of our society should be prepared. I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up (cases of coronavirus). We’re going very substantially down, not up. But, yeah, I think schools should be preparing and, you know, get ready just in case.” He added: “We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.” A week or so later, confirmed cases had increased 50 fold, from 20 cases to over 1,000 cases. We did not and do not have it “so well under control.”

While these were remarkably inept false statements by the President, they were essentially Trump being Trump. These ridiculous assurances by Trump didn’t cause the problem currently whipsawing the nation. Nor did they help.

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4 responses to “US Covid-19 Screw-up: Trump is the Least of It.”

  1. Betty Wolf says:

    Scientists whom I know indicated that CDC chose not to use a WHO test used by other countries. CDC was plagued by the fact that their test failed reproducibility and, as you stated, FDA’s sluggish approval processes.

    As a conservative, I agree that the President overstated optimism, similar to that expressed by CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, (“We will stop it in it’s tracks.”) during Ebola when I worked for CDC Foundation. This is when NIH’s Dr. Tony Fauci was asked to step in for Dr. Frieden to provide reliable, fact-based, straight talk to the nation about Ebola.

    Dr. Fauci has become “America’s Doctor” and is delivering the messaging the country needs. He is the finest resource we have. Thank God Trump has him on the team.

    He recently said it will get worse before it gets better as described:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci testifying in front of the House Oversight, told Chairwoman Maloney that the country should expect things to get worse

    Maloney: “Is the worst yet to come Dr. Fauci?”

    Fauci: “Yes it is… Things will get worse…The bottom line it’s going to get worse.”

    Take good care.

  2. Robert J. Fraiman says:

    Right on, Hal!!
    I agree with the comment made by Betty Wolf. Dr. Anthony Fauci is “the real deal”, no sugar coating just tells it like it is.
    Remember, no shaking hands but it’s OK to touch the microphone.
    Let’s all stay well!!!

  3. James Fisher says:

    Yes, I agree that President Trump erred by being too optimistic about the likelihood of future American infections. So much for wishful thinking.

    However, he should be given substantial credit for stopping flights from China early on and more recently flights from Europe. His opponents denounced him as a racist for these acts.

    I am also impressed by Trump’s unique skill in achieving the early participation of major American companies to develop, distribute and administer the virus tests throughout America. This is a great application of our vibrant private industry and the experience gained will greatly facilitate our ability to handle future medical or other national emergencies of this magnitude.

    • Response to James Fisher: We are unaware of President Trump’s opponents referring to his decision to stop flights from China and Europe as racist, although his opponents did refer to his referring to covid-19 as a “foreign virus” or the “Wuhan Virus” as racist. Labeling viruses by their point of origin, however, is not unusual nor necessarily racist. Two of the better known viruses, i.e. the Spanish Virus and the Middle East virus attest to this.

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