COVID-19: Not An April Fool’s Joke

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



[UPDATE – 2:30 pm — US has 203,608 cases and 4,476 deaths

North Carolina has 1,584 cases and nine deaths [UPDATE: 2:30 pm — 1,627 cases and 14 deaths]. Forsyth County has 57 cases and 1 death.

Still dire. The top government scientists battling the coronavirus estimated Tuesday that the deadly pathogen could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, in spite of the social distancing measures that have closed schools, banned large gatherings, limited travel and forced people to stay in their homes….The conclusions generally match those from similar models by public health researchers around the globe.

As dire as those predictions are, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx said the number of deaths could be much higher if Americans do not follow the strict guidelines to keep the virus from spreading, and they urged people to take the restrictions seriously.

At least Trump finally is finally recognizing it:

Five weeks ago, when there were 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, President Trump expressed little alarm. “This is a flu,” he said. “This is like a flu.” He was still likening it to an ordinary flu as late as Friday.

By Tuesday, however, with more than 187,000 recorded cases in the United States and more Americans having been killed by the virus than by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the president’s assessment had rather drastically changed. “It’s not the flu,” he said. “It’s vicious.”

The grim-faced president who appeared in the White House briefing room for more than two hours on Tuesday evening beside charts showing death projections of hellacious proportions was coming to grips with a reality he had long refused to accept. At a minimum, the charts predicted that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die — and only if the nation abided by stringent social restrictions that would choke the economy and impoverish millions.

That doesn’t excuse his weeks and months of delay, lies, and rosy predictions. But at least he came around. For one day.

On the other hand, he seems oblivious to his role in this as a fixer:

Several rural-state governors alerted President Trump on Monday that they are struggling to obtain urgently needed medical supplies and testing equipment, warning that despite the worsening coronavirus situation in New York and other urban areas, more sparsely populated parts of the country need help, too. 

In response to requests for more testing kits, Mr. Trump said, “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” according to an audio recording of the call between the president and governors obtained by CBS News. 

During the call, which lasted a little over an hour, Democratic and Republican governors detailed how they are struggling to obtain the protective equipment doctors and nurses will need to treat the sick and the test kits needed to determine whether sick residents are suffering from COVID-19.

“We understand the challenges in New York. I have family in New York,” Wyoming Republican Governor Mark Gordon told the president. But, he told Mr. Trump, “I think a little bit of supply going our way could get us better prepared going forward.” “Good point,” Mr. Trump replied. “Thank you very much, Mark. If you have a problem, call me. I’ll get you what you need.”

CBS News obtained a recording of the call from a participant shortly after it concluded. Others familiar with the call confirmed some of the details.

Mr. Trump was joined on the call by Vice President Pence, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of allergy and infectious diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force.


Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards told the president that New Orleans plans to establish a 1,250-bed field hospital at the New Orleans convention center by Sunday, with the option to add 1,000 beds the following week.

“We’re having a really hard time getting the ventilators that we need,” Edwards said. “We’re pursuing every angle that we have, including requests from the [national] stockpile. We know that testing continues to be an issue, especially the test collection kits. Although this is getting better.”

Responding to Edwards, Trump said, “we’re going to have some additional ventilators coming.”

But other governors warned there are far broader concerns to come.

Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock noted that delays in testing state residents could soon overwhelm hospitals in rural population centers and griped that his buying power has been repeatedly “trumped” by the federal government, a far larger customer for supplies and equipment.

“I could give four or five examples over the last week where we have supply orders, and they’ve subsequently been cancelled, and they’re canceled in part because what our suppliers are saying is that federal resources are requesting it and trumping that,” Bullock said.

Bullock also warned “we’re going to have some real problems” across smaller rural states if they cannot soon obtain the necessary testing equipment. He cited Gallatin County, which encompasses Bozeman, as a population center that is seeing a growing infection rate.

“So we’re trying to shift the supplies to really isolate that and do contact tracing, but we don’t even have enough supplies to do the testing,” Bullock said.

Mr. Trump replied, “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’ll come out with another one tomorrow that’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard anything about testing being a problem.”

Admiral Brett Giroir, head of the Public Health Service and overseeing the push to distribute coronavirus test kits, interjected, explaining that the federal government is purchasing for each state at least 15 recently approved test kits that can confirm a coronavirus diagnosis within four minutes.

“We’re going to get that to your state lab as soon as possible,” Giroir said.

Marissa Perry, Bullock’s communications director, said that Montana has received just 16% of the personal protective equipment it has requested from the national stockpile. “The state has been actively pursuing every avenue available for more supplies, including on the open market, but in many instances supply orders from the private market have been cancelled,” she said in an email.

Later in the call, New Mexico Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham flagged “incredible spikes” of infection in the Navajo Nation and said that her team is emphasizing contact tracing and infection surveillance near two federal nuclear laboratories in her state.

“If we don’t get that under containment and really be clear about surveillance, I think we have some significant national security issues,” Lujan Grisham warned. 

“We’re seeing incredible spikes in the Navajo Nation, and this is going to be an issue where we’re going to have to figure that out and think about maybe testing and surveillance opportunities,” she added later. “The rate of infection, at least on the New Mexico side — although we’ve got several Arizona residents in our hospitals — we’re seeing a much higher hospital rate, a much younger hospital rate, a much quicker go-right-to-the-vent rate for this population. And we’re seeing doubling in every day-and-a-half.”

“Wow. That’s something,” the president replied.

Trump actually made at least one true statement during Tuesday’s White House briefing on the novel coronavirus. When it comes to the way he handled the administration’s response, he wasn’t affected one bit by impeachment. “I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached,” Trump told reporters, when asked whether the impeachment process impeded his response.

Trump’s response basically destroyed one of Republican lawmakers’ favorite new talking points. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a conservative radio host on Tuesday that impeachment had “diverted the attention of the government.” It was nothing if not an admission that Trump and GOP lawmakers totally fumbled the ball on this public health disaster. If anyone thought they were really doing a great job, Republicans would be cooing about how wonderfully they’ve managed the response. The real question is, why did Senate Republicans vote to keep the ever-incompetent Trump in charge when they very clearly had a sense of the calamity that lay ahead for the country?

Of course, Trump is delusional enough to think he’s been just great. “Did it divert my attention?” Trump said during the White House briefing. “I think I’m getting A-pluses for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, okay? It was a hoax.” Trump said he may have thought about impeachment, but added, “I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached, okay?”

In other related news, Sen. Kelly Loeffler has disclosed even more stock sales that show millions of dollars in shares were sold on her behalf while Congress was dealing with the impact of the coronavirus. Last month, it was revealed Loeffler and her husband sold off seven figures’ worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the novel coronavirus on Jan. 24. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has now obtained filings from mid-February through mid-March. They reportedly show the couple sold shares in retail stores and invested in a company that makes protective garments that are being used to fight the spread of COVID-19. The biggest transactions reportedly involve $18.7 million in sales of Intercontinental Exchange stock in three separate deals. The new figures will fuel allegations that the Georgia Republican used insider knowledge about the pandemic to dump holdings. Loeffler has said she did nothing wrong, adding that neither she or her husband have control over the day-to-day decisions to buy or sell stocks.

Boston Globe editorial is awesome:

What we have instead is a president epically outmatched by a global pandemic. A president who in late January, when the first confirmed coronavirus case was announced in the United States, downplayed the risk and insisted all was under control. A president who, rather than aggressively test all those exposed to the virus, said he’d prefer not to bring ashore passengers on a contaminated cruise ship so as to keep national case numbers (artificially) low. A president who, consistent with his mistrust and undermining of scientific fact, has misled the public about unproven cures for COVID-19, and who baited-and-switched last week about whether the country ought to end social distancing to open up by Easter, and then, on Saturday, about whether he’d impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A president who has pledged to oversee the doling out of the $500 billion in corporate bailout money in the latest stimulus package, some of which will go to the travel industry in which his family is invested. A president who spent a good chunk of a recent press conference complaining about how hard it is for a rich man to serve in the White House even as Americans had already begun to lose their jobs, their health care, and their lives. A president who has reinforced racial stigma by calling the contagion a “Chinese virus” and failed to collaborate adequately with other countries to contain their outbreaks and study the disease. A president who evades responsibility and refuses to acknowledge, let alone own, the bitter truth of National Institutes of Health scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony: that the country’s testing rollout was “a failing.”

Timing is everything in pandemic response: It can make the difference between a contained local outbreak that endures a few weeks and an uncontrollable contagion that afflicts millions. The Trump administration has made critical errors over the past two months, choosing early on to develop its own diagnostic test, which failed, instead of adopting the World Health Organization’s test — a move that kneecapped the US coronavirus response and, by most public health experts’ estimation, will cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American lives. Rather than making the expected federal effort to mobilize rapidly to distribute needed gowns, masks, and ventilators to ill-equipped hospitals and to the doctors and nurses around the country who are left unprotected treating a burgeoning number of patients, the administration has instead been caught outbidding individual states (including Massachusetts) trying to purchase medical supplies. It has dragged its heels on invoking the Defense Production Act to get scarce, sorely needed ventilators and masks into production so that they can be distributed to hospitals nationwide as they hit their peaks in the cycle of the epidemic. It has left governors and mayors in the lurch, begging for help. The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID-19 cases than were necessary. In other words, the president has blood on his hands.

It’s not too much for Americans to ask of their leaders that they be competent and informed when responding to a crisis of historic proportions. Instead, they have a White House marred by corruption and incompetence, whose mixed messages roil the markets and rock their sense of security. Instead of compassion and clarity, the president, in his near-daily addresses to the nation, embodies callousness, self-concern, and a lack of compass. Dangling unverified cures and possible quarantines in front of the public like reality TV cliffhangers, he unsettles rather than reassures. The pandemic reveals that the worst features of this presidency are not merely late-night comedy fodder; they come at the cost of lives, livelihoods, and our collective psyche.

Other updates: