All COVID-19, All The Time

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Light blogging for the past few days because I have been sick. Not coronovirus, Just allergies.

COVID-19 is here. And the Trump Administration is blowing it.

On Monday, the 123-year-old Dow Jones logged a 2,014-point drop, its largest in history, which equates to a 7.79% decline. Then markets recovered 1167 points on Tuesday, only to shed 1,464.94 points during the session, or 5.9%, on Wednesday.

Today, Thursday, at 10:15, the Dow is down 1,850. About 6 minutes into the trading day, the S&P 500 plunged 7 percent, setting off an automatic 15-minute trading halt known as a circuit breaker. Additional breakers would have been tripped at 13 percent and 20 percent. (This also happened on Monday).

UPDATE at 1:05 pm: Although it went down below 2,000, stocks are rebounding on news that the Fed will pump half a trillion into short term banking fund — now at negative-925.

UPDATE at 1:45 pm: Well, that was short-lived. Down 1,865 again.


  • The Dow fell by 9.99% or 2,352.60 points to close at 21,200.62
  • The Nasdaq tumbled 9.43%, or 750.25, to close at 7,201.80
  • The S&P 500 dropped 9.5% or 260.74 points to close at 2,480.64 

For the Dow, it was the largest single-day percentage decline since the stock market crash in 1987 (when markets were sufficiently scarred to institute failsafe measures for the future, to prevent similar, shocking declines)

The WHO declared this a pandemic yesterday.

China says it has passed the peak of the outbreak.

Tom Hanks says he and his wife have the coronavirus.

There are “only” 1,328 confirmed cases in the United States, but that number is probably low. Why? Because we’ve hardly done testing.

The lack of coronavirus tests in the United States is a confusing problem. It’s not as if American scientists needed to invent a new test. Tests already exist — in small numbers in this country and in much larger numbers in South Korea and elsewhere.

So why haven’t American government agencies or companies been able to produce more test kits and why have only about 5,000 Americans been tested so far?

“Labs and states are worried,” Andy Slavitt, a former director of Medicare and Medicaid, wrote yesterday: They “expect next to no availability to continue for weeks.”

The short answer is a lack of preparation and poor execution by the federal government. The initial tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a technical problem — and federal officials were then too slow to find alternatives.

In his Oval Office address last night, President Trump tried to blame Europe for the spread of the virus in the United States. But Europe isn’t the problem (and the fact that indexes tied to the future of the stock market began falling during his speech suggests investors were unnerved by what Trump was saying). A much bigger problem is the lack of testing in the United States.

As Vox’s Brian Resnick and Dylan Scott explain: “Accurate testing is critical to stopping an outbreak: When one person gets a confirmed diagnosis, they can be put in isolation where they won’t spread the disease further. Then their contacts can be identified and put into quarantine — so that they don’t spread the virus if they’ve become infected, too. That’s particularly important for a virus like this one, which seems able to spread before people show symptoms, or when their symptoms are mild.”

How exactly have American officials botched the tests?

After problems arose with the C.D.C.’s test, officials could have switched to using successful tests that other countries were already using. But the officials refused to do so, essentially because it would have required changing bureaucratic procedures.

The federal government could also have eased regulations on American hospitals and laboratories, to allow them to create and manufacture their own tests, as Melissa Miller of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine told The Washington Post. But federal officials did not do so for weeks. The Times’s Sheri Fink and Mike Baker reported this week about a Seattle lab with a promising test that was blocked by “existing regulations and red tape” while “other countries ramped up much earlier and faster.”

These delays meant that the United States has wasted much of the past two months. “In January and February, China bought the world time with its aggressive action to contain the viral outbreak in its borders,” Vox’s Resnick and Dylan wrote. “The testing fiasco in the U.S. indicates we didn’t use that time well.”

Joanne Kenen of Politico has explained:

On Saturday Jan. 11 — a month and a half before the first Covid-19 case not linked to travel was diagnosed in the United States — Chinese scientists posted the genome of the mysterious new virus, and within a week virologists in Berlin had produced the first diagnostic test for the disease. Soon after, researchers in other nations rolled out their own tests, too, sometimes with different genetic targets. By the end of February, the World Health Organization had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries. The United States was not among them.

In the Oval Office address, Trump claimed that his administration’s response has been better than that of other countries. The evidence just doesn’t match those claims.

The House is set to vote on Thursday on a sweeping aid package for people affected by the coronavirus, with a measure that would establish a national paid leave program, expand food assistance, offer free coronavirus testing and bolster unemployment insurance. The proposal also includes $500 million to provide assistance to low-income pregnant women and some mothers who are laid off because of the outbreak; $400 million to assist food banks; and $250 million to deliver packaged meals to low-income seniors.

Trump said last night that he was suspending most travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days, beginning on Friday, to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The restrictions do not apply to Britain, he said.

Mr. Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners who in the previous two weeks have been in the 26 countries that make up the European Union’s Schengen Area. The limits, which take effect on Friday at midnight, will exempt American citizens and permanent legal residents and their families, although they could be funneled to certain airports for enhanced screening.

But Trump wrongly said he is banning European goods.Trump said his “prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.” This is not true.

Trump wrongly said he was suspending “all travel from Europe” Trump said during his Oval Office address, “We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.” The United Kingdom was the only country he identified as exempt. But the travel suspension does not apply to all of Europe. The UK is not the only exempt country.

Referring to Americans abroad, Trump created confusion in two ways. First, by referring to “Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings,” he did not make clear that US citizens can return from Europe even if they have not been screened before they take off for the US. The screening comes after they land in the US. Second, Trump did not mention that he is exempting a variety of non-US citizens, including permanent US residents and certain family members of both citizens and permanent residents.

Again, Trump said he was suspending travel “from Europe to the United States.” But as it turns out, the suspension applies not only to people flying in from Europe but to people “who were physically present within the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”

The president assured Americans that the nation’s health insurers “have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.” But they had not. A spokesperson for the America’s Health Insurance Plans trade association later confirmed to reporters that insurers had agreed to suspend copayments for testing alone, not the treatment of the disease. Either the president misspoke, the prepared text of his national address was irredeemably sloppy, or the White House has not been coordinating closely with the health-insurance industry ahead of the address. Whatever the explanation, it isn’t acceptable.

It’s simply stunning that the president announced the wrong policy in a critical, prepared address. He said his ban applied to trade then said it didn’t. This is completely unacceptable. It shouldn’t be “baked in” to anything other than the continued case that this man is unfit.

This is all from a huge series of mismanagement from the Trump Administration, and Trump himself.

Where does this Trump statement rank among the worst presidential moments of all time? TRUMP: And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done (2/26/20)

Trump is falsely blaming the Obama administration for the slow rollout of U.S. tests for the new coronavirus—ignoring his administration’s own fumbles in responding to the health crisis and mischaracterizing Obama-era policies.

Not true. In fact, the lack of regulation of medical tests was so concerning to Obama aides that the FDA proposed the idea – and found bipartisan support on Capitol Hill – of increasing oversight of medical testing to protect patients from being given tests they don’t need or from inaccurate results.

But the Obama administration ultimately never acted on the proposal and it never became a regulation. Instead, in January 2017, it issued a “discussion paper” as it left the matter up to Trump.

Last Saturday, the FDA invoked a 2004 law – passed well before Trump or Obama took office – to specifically authorize coronavirus tests to be developed in private laboratories like hospitals and given to patients without prior federal approval.

Worth noting though is that this power was something Health Secretary Alex Azar and the FDA have had since coronavirus became a global health crisis in late January.

School districts in many parts of the country are suspended. Games and gatherings have been cancelled. The Capital is closed. Even Trump finally decided to suspend rallies. The NBA has suspended the rest of its season.

Let’s listen to David Frum:

The Worst Outcome: If somebody other than Donald Trump were in the White House, the coronavirus crisis would not be unfolding this way.

At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?

Presidents are not all-powerful, especially not in the case of pandemic disease. There are limits to what they can do, for good or ill. But within those limits, at every juncture, Trump’s actions have ensured the worst possible outcomes. The worst outcome for public health. The worst outcome for the American economy. The worst outcome for American global leadership.

Trump’s Oval Office speech of March 11 was the worst action yet in a string of bad actions.

Here are the things the president did not do in that speech.

He offered no guidance or policy on how to prevent the spread of the disease inside the United States. Should your town cancel its St. Patrick’s Day parade? What about theatrical productions and sporting events? Classes at schools and colleges? Nothing.

He offered no explanation of what went wrong with the U.S. testing system, nor any assurance of when testing would become more widely available. His own previous promises of testing for anyone who needs it have been exploded as false. So what is true? Nothing.

Layoffs are coming, probably on a very large scale, as travel collapses and people hunker down at home. Any word for those about to lose their jobs? Only the vaguest indication that something might be announced sometime soon.

It’s good to hear that there will be no co-pays on the tests nobody seems able to get. What about other health-care coverage? Any word on that? Nothing.

The financial markets have plunged into a 2008-style crash, auguring a recession, perhaps a severe one. The Trump administration has had almost two months to think about this crisis. It has trial-ballooned some ideas. But, of course, fiscal policy would require assent from the House of Representatives. Trump is still pouting at Speaker Nancy Pelosi. So—aside from some preposterously unconvincing happy talk about the economy—again: nothing.

There was one something in the speech: a ban on travel from Europe, but not the United Kingdom. It’s a classic Trump formulation. It seeks to protect America by erecting a wall against the world, without thinking very hard how or whether the wall can work. The disease is already here. The numbers only look low because of our prior failure to provide adequate testing. They will not look low even four days from now. And those infected with the virus can travel from other countries and on other routes. Trump himself has already met some.

The travel ban is an act of panic. Financial futures began crashing even as Trump was talking, perhaps shocked by his lack of an economic plan, perhaps aghast at his latest attack on world trade. (The speech seemed to suggest an embargo on European-sourced cargo as well, but that looks more like a mental lapse of Trump’s than a real policy announcement. The ban on cargo was retracted by a post-speech tweet, although the ban remains in the posted transcript of the speech.) Among other things, the ban represents one more refutation by Trump of any idea of collective security against collective threats. While China offers medical assistance to Italy, he wants to sever ties to former friends—isolating America and abandoning the world.

This crisis is not of Trump’s making. What he is responsible for is his failure to respond promptly, and then his perverse and counterproductive choice of how to respond when action could be avoided no longer. Trump, in his speech, pleaded for an end to finger-pointing. It’s a strange thing for this president of all presidents to say. No American president, and precious few American politicians, have ever pointed so many fingers or hurled so much abuse as Donald Trump. What he means, of course, is: Don’t hold me to account for the things I did.

But he did do them, and he owns responsibility for those things. He cannot escape it, and he will not escape it.

More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose their jobs than if somebody else were in charge. More businesses will be pushed into bankruptcy than if somebody else were in charge. More savers will lose more savings than if somebody else were in charge. The damage to America’s global leadership will be greater than if somebody else were in charge.

There is always something malign in Trump’s incompetence. He has no care or concern for others; he cannot absorb the trouble and suffering of others as real. He monotones his way through words of love and compassion, but those words plainly have no content or meaning for him. The only thing that is real is his squalid vanity. This virus threatens to pierce that vanity, so he denied it as long as he could. What he refuses to acknowledge cannot be real, can it?

And even now that he has acknowledged the crisis, he still cannot act, because he does not know what to do. His only goal now is to shove blame onto others. Americans have to face the fact that in the grip of this pandemic, the Oval Office is for all practical purposes as empty as the glazed eyes of the man who spoke from that office tonight.

There’s also the issue of Trump’s xenophobia, echoed by much of the right wing media. Seated behind his desk in the White House Wednesday, Trump looked into the camera and warned Americans of an enemy who has infiltrated our borders. We are at war, he said, with a “foreign virus.”

It’s a tactic meant to distract from what his administration has and hasn’t done, in this case to combat the coronavirus pandemic. “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said of his administration’s work.

That is not the language of the Trump era. Trump rode into office on a message of division, of fear and hate and xenophobia. He announced his campaign in 2015 by smearing Mexicans. Even his inaugural address was laced with dark notes. “From this day forward,” he said during his address, “it’s going to be only America first.”Xenophobia isn’t a bug in the system for him; it’s a feature.

Throughout his time in office, again and again, he’s rallied his supporters through fear of outsiders — whether it was fear of travelers from Muslim-majority countries or asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. He’s portrayed foreigners as filthy and derided others’ homelands as “shithole countries.”

Now, faced with explaining his government’s response to an outbreak that’s getting worse, he’s relying on the same tropes.

Just now, Trump shows off his inattentiveness to the situation:

Locally, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday morning it has identified two cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Forsyth County, where I live.

Susan Glassar at The New Yorker:

Crises clarify. The bigger the crisis, the more the clarity, which is why the incompetence, dishonesty, and sheer callousness of the Trump Presidency have been clearer in recent days than ever before. As the coronavirus, as of Wednesday an official pandemic, spreads, the lives of Americans depend on the decisions made—or not made, as the case may be—by a President uniquely ill-suited to command in this type of public-health catastrophe. In that sense, the last few weeks may well have been the most clarifying of Donald Trump’s Presidency.

In a prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday night, Trump declared war on the “foreign virus,” blaming first China and then the European Union for spreading it, and insisting that it carried “very, very low risk” for Americans. The starkly militaristic and nationalistic tone of the address sounded scary and ignorant and utterly inadequate at a time when the country is being radically upended, with travel halting, workplaces and schools shuttering, and hospitals bracing for impact. The “foreign virus” will not be contained or shut out by a European travel ban, which the President announced, any more than it was by a China travel ban, which he had previously decreed. It is already here in states across the nation, and experts warn that it could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands in a worst-case scenario. Trump spoke little about that, beyond a vague nudge to Congress to pass a payroll tax cut and a warning to “elderly Americans” to be “very, very careful” and avoid “nonessential travel.” He failed to explain or even address the shocking lack of testing of Americans—a stark contrast to the response by other countries—and did not warn the public about or advise them on how to handle the difficult days ahead. Even the major measure that he announced, the European travel ban, required immediate clarification and correction from Administration officials who said it did not apply to trade, as Trump indicated in his remarks, or permanent residents. His former homeland-security adviser, Thomas Bossert, immediately panned the ban as a “poor use of time & energy.”

In short, Trump was detached from the unfolding reality of a global crisis that is unlike any in memory. I’ve watched Presidential speeches for a few decades now. I cannot recall one that was less equal to the moment.

Trump spoke from the Oval Office exactly five weeks to the day since the end of his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, which left him with essentially unchecked power after the Republican-led Senate voted against his removal. So much has happened since the trial, which already seems as if it happened in another era, but there is a through-line: Trump himself, constantly conflating the national interest with his personal interest. As the coronavirus spread and the President initially ignored, downplayed, and lied about it—even dismissing coverage of the risks as a media-inflamed “hoax”—the costs of the Senate’s impeachment decision have been cast in sharp relief. It will be a long time before we can reckon with the full damage done by an Administration whose incompetence, disinformation, and sheer bungling in the early stages of the crisis have been at once predictable and breathtaking.

The critics were quick to declare this to be Trump’s Katrina, Trump’s Chernobyl, even Trump’s “Pandumbic,” as “The Daily Show” named it. What is striking to me, however, is how much the last few weeks represented Trump merely being Trump. This wasn’t a situation in which the folly of the system or the depth of mismanagement was suddenly revealed to the man at the top, but a case in which the man at the top was the folly.

It’s almost unbelievable from the vantage point of the present moment, when we are in the midst of an officially designated global pandemic and a consequent economic crisis that threatens to plunge the United States and the rest of the planet into a recession, but consider how the President of the United States has spent his time since the coronavirus infection reached America in mid-January. He has:

Publicly attacked the judge, prosecutors, and jury forewoman in the case of Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political associate who was convicted of lying to Congress and other offenses.

Fired his Ambassador to the European Union and a National Security Council adviser on Ukraine, and purged others who figured in the impeachment investigation as he fulminated to aides about “snakes” in his Administration.

Fired the acting director of National Intelligence, after an intelligence briefing to Congress about Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in the 2020 election.

Nominated as his new director of National Intelligence a highly partisan Republican congressman who was forced to withdraw from the exact same job last summer for inflating his résumé.

Sued, through his campaign, the Times, CNN, and the Washington Post for publishing opinion articles that he did not like.

Installed a new, twenty-nine-year-old personnel chief in the White House who had been previously fired and marched off the premises, and gave him a mandate to revamp the vetting process for Administration officials, with a new emphasis on loyalty.

As the novel coronavirus spread from China across Asia and Europe and to the United States, Trump used his Presidential Twitter feed, his four campaign rallies, his trip to India, and various public appearances in February to attack by name dozens of targets, including the Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor; “Crazy Nancy Pelosi” and her “impeachment hoax”; the “failed” and “sanctimonious” Senator Mitt Romney; the “puppet” Senator Joe Manchin; the “lightweight” Senator Doug Jones, a “Do Nothing Stiff”; Jay Powell, his appointee as chairman of the Federal Reserve; John Kelly, his former White House chief of staff, who was in “way over his head”; and Jeff Sessions, his former Attorney General.

The President, who has made name-calling such a signature of his boorish public persona that it is rarely even pointed out any more, also found time to demean the Democratic Presidential candidates running against him—“Mini Mike” Bloomberg came in for particular animus before he dropped out, belittled by the President as a “stumbling, bumbling,” “weak and unsteady” “5’4” mass of dead energy.” As criticism of his response to the virus escalated, Trump doubled down on his attack on journalists as “the enemy of the people” and targeted individual journalists by name, calling them “wacko” and talentless.

All of this he did while the epidemic spread. At the same time, Trump was claiming that the illness was being contained; that it dies in warmer weather; that it was not coming to the United States; that it was about to disappear; and that it was not very serious. Indeed, had you read only communications from the President about the spreading coronavirus, you would have been subjected to a barrage of lies and misinformation and self-serving bombast, information that even at the time it was being said was clearly and unequivocally untrue.

I reviewed all of the one thousand and forty-nine tweets and retweets that Trump sent in the five weeks between his impeachment acquittal and Wednesday afternoon, counting forty-eight that mentioned coronavirus. By far the largest number of these—twenty-one—bragged in some way about the Administration’s response to a crisis that Trump claimed was being contained because of his fast, early action to shut the “boarders” with China. The next largest group of tweets attacked Democrats or the media or both for not giving him credit, or for seeking to create panic, rather than recognizing what a good job he has been doing. It was only on February 24th that the President sent his first tweet about the illness arriving in America. “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted. At the time, there were fifty-three confirmed cases in the country, a number that by March 1st had risen to more than a hundred. Just last week, Trump told Americans that coronavirus cases were “going very substantially down.”

Amazingly, these statements continued throughout this week, as the World Health Organization finally declared the novel coronavirus to be pandemic and chided nations—read the United States—for “alarming levels of inaction.” On Sunday, Trump claimed, “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus.” On Monday, before the stock market crashed and a congressman who had flown with him on Air Force One had to quarantine himself, the President began the day by blaming the media and Democrats for seeking “to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.” By the end of that catastrophic day, an unrepentant Trump appeared at a White House press conference and said, “We have been handling it very well” before promising a major, very, very big economic recovery proposal with no specifics. He concluded, “This blindsided the world, and I think we’ve handled it very, very well.” On Tuesday, he returned to this theme after visiting the Capitol for a private lunch with applauding Republican senators. “It will go away,” Trump said of the virus, on the day that more than a thousand cases were registered in the United States. “Just stay calm. It will go away.”

We don’t know whether this is Trump’s long-delayed reckoning, the overdue moment of accountability for a man who has escaped such reckonings his entire life. The election is not for many months. The dizzying events of just the last few weeks—the remarkable upending of the Democratic Presidential race, the hubris and foolishness of the Administration’s initial response to the virus—may be long forgotten by then.

That does not make this any less of a significant milestone in this most unbelievable of American Presidencies. On Wednesday, the respected government medical expert Anthony Fauci told Congress that the worst is yet to come. “Yes, yes it is,” he said. Trump cannot tweet this virus away or lie it into oblivion. The virus does not care if he gives tax cuts to friendly oil barons or bails out his own hotels with federal dollars, possibilities that have been floated in recent days. Trump may believe that only Republicans matter to his political fortunes, but he has yet to find a doctor who can insulate his base, and his base only, from the ravages of this disease. Nor will he.

Trump has spent years devaluing and diminishing facts, experts, institutions, and science—the very things upon which we must rely in a crisis—and his default setting during the coronavirus outbreak has been to deny, delay, deflect, and diminish. His speech on Wednesday night was a disappointment but not a surprise. He told us what we already knew: America is in big trouble.

1:50 pm: Biden just gave a coronavirus speech. Very presidential. Pay attention to science, etc.