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‘Heck Of A Job, Trumpy’

A big crisis, an inept federal bureaucracy, and a failing president make it seem like old times

The nation is on the verge of a pandemic unlike anything it has faced in over 100 years, and this is what the President of the United States is thinking about tonight:

What a disgraceful boob. You regular readers know how much I fear for religious liberty in the coming soft totalitarianism, so I don’t say this lightly. There is something worse than having a Democratic president appoint judges for four years, and that’s having a man-child in charge of the federal government during a national crisis unprecedented in living memory. The unseriousness of this man, in this time, is utterly infuriating, and demoralizing.

Here’s the thing, though: after we get through this thing, the temptation is going to be to scapegoat Trump for all the failures of the federal government to plan for coronavirus response. It’s not just Trump at fault. Here’s an appalling story from The New York Times about how the US public health bureaucracy botched the coronavirus response early on. Here is how it begins:

Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, knew that the United States did not have much time.

In late January, the first confirmed American case of the coronavirus had landed in her area. Critical questions needed answers: Had the man infected anyone else? Was the deadly virus already lurking in other communities and spreading?

As luck would have it, Dr. Chu had a way to monitor the region. For months, as part of a research project into the flu, she and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs from residents experiencing symptoms throughout the Puget Sound region.

To repurpose the tests for monitoring the coronavirus, they would need the support of state and federal officials. But nearly everywhere Dr. Chu turned, officials repeatedly rejected the idea, interviews and emails show, even as weeks crawled by and outbreaks emerged in countries outside of China, where the infection began.

By Feb. 25, Dr. Chu and her colleagues could not bear to wait any longer. They began performing coronavirus tests, without government approval.

What came back confirmed their worst fear. They quickly had a positive test from a local teenager with no recent travel history. The coronavirus had already established itself on American soil without anybody realizing it.

“It must have been here this entire time,” Dr. Chu recalled thinking with dread. “It’s just everywhere already.”

In fact, officials would later discover through testing, the virus had already contributed to the deaths of two people, and it would go on to kill 20 more in the Seattle region over the following days.

Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because it did not have explicit permission from research subjects; the labs were also not certified for clinical work. While acknowledging the ethical questions, Dr. Chu and others argued there should be more flexibility in an emergency during which so many lives could be lost. On Monday night, state regulators told them to stop testing altogether.

The failure to tap into the flu study, detailed here for the first time, was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier. Instead, local officials across the country were left to work blindly as the crisis grew undetected and exponentially.

The story goes on to explain in detail how scientists in Seattle spent the month of February desperately trying to convince the CDC and the FDA to allow them to test for coronavirus — and were shot down because of rule-following. More:

Looking back, Dr. Chu said she understood why the regulations that stymied the flu study’s efforts for weeks existed. “Those protections are in place for a reason,” she said. “You want to protect human subjects. You want to do things in an ethical way.”

The frustration, she said, was how long it took to cut through red tape to try to save lives in an outbreak that had the potential to explode in Washington State and spread in many other regions. “I don’t think people knew that back then,” she said. “We know it now.”

Read it all.

Seattle scientists would have known far earlier that coronavirus was already here had the feds allowed them to test the samples they already had. Think about that. The country would have known a month earlier that there was no keeping coronavirus out of America, because it was already well established.

It is not Trump’s fault that the FDA and the CDC insisted on sticking by rules that dramatically hampered response to a fast-emerging public health crisis. However, this is exactly the kind of bureaucratic logjam that an engaged White House could have broken through. We still do not know how bad the outbreak is in this country, because we do not have the resources to do full testing. The system failed. And look at this:

As health department officials worked quickly to negotiate an emergency funding package to fight the spreading coronavirus outbreak on Feb. 23, they came to a frustrating realization: Their email system had crashed.

The outage in the Health and Human Services secretary’s office stretched on much of the day, with some messages delayed up to 11 hours, creating frustration and slowing the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.

The HHS officials soon discovered the culprit: An email test conducted by the team at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the health department that hadn’t briefed HHS leaders or alerted the department’s chief information officer before sending thousands of messages through their shared system. Although it was a Sunday, top officials were negotiating with the White House over a soon-to-be-announced coronavirus funding plan and tackling other urgent decisions — which were interrupted by the email outage.

The problem, as the story details, is the managerial incompetence of Seema Verma, the Pence ally who heads the Medicare/Medicaid office. Last year, she was faulted for spending millions of taxpayer dollars on GOP consultants to manage her brand. In December, she tried to charge the taxpayer $47,000 to replace stolen Ivanka Trump brand jewelry, cosmetics, and other luggage she left in her car in San Francisco, where it was stolen.

Remember the good old days, when FEMA’s bungled initial response to Katrina brought unwanted attention to Michael Brown, the inexperienced Republican hack George W. Bush put in charge of the federal emergency management agency? “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” the president said at the time. Brownie may be gone, but his spirit thrives in this Republican administration.

Should the Democrats throw the Republicans out of the White House and even the Senate this fall, remember all this. But after the crisis passes, there should also be Congressional hearings about why the federal bureaucracy was so slow to react to this mounting crisis, despite all the evidence. This is not entirely Trump’s fault.




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