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‘Fake! Everything Is Fake!’

POTUS at a press conference earlier this week (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Can you imagine having to be the White House person whose job it was to tell this butt-covering lie to NPR?

When the history of the coronavirus outbreak is written, it will not be kind to Donald Trump and his administration. From Time magazine:

The Trump Administration’s strategy to combat COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, began with a relatively simple focus: keep it out of the United States. In service of that goal, the White House issued drastic travel restrictions, imposed mandatory quarantines, and repeatedly told the public that these steps were working.

“We have contained this. I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in a television interview on Feb. 25, echoing Trump’s tweeted declaration that the virus was “very much under control” in the United States.

But it wasn’t, and the administration’s rosy messaging was fundamentally at odds with a growing cacophony of alarm bells inside and outside the U.S. government. Since January, epidemiologists, former U.S. public health officials and experts have been warning, publicly and privately, that the administration’s insistence that containment was—and should remain—the primary way to confront an emerging infectious disease was a grave mistake.

In congressional testimony, in medical webcasts and in private discussions with health officials, they warned that the unique features of this flu-like virus made it impossible to control, and that the administration must use any time that containment measures might buy to prepare the country for an inevitable outbreak. The administration was using all its resources to blockade the doors, they warned, but the enemy was likely already in the house.

“The current U.S. policy to deny visas to travelers from China and to quarantine returning Americans is not the right approach,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and expert in disease outbreak detection and response at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, testified to Congress on February 5. “I am deeply concerned that these measures will make us less safe by diverting public health resources from higher priority disease mitigation approaches.”

This is entirely on the Trump administration. We had over one month to get ready for this day, and the administration blew it. A doctor e-mailed me yesterday to say that at his clinic, they can’t leave hand sanitizer, masks, or gloves in the exam rooms, because people are stealing them. Someone ripped a bottle of medical-grade hand sanitizer off the wall yesterday morning. People are freaking out. Again, all of this was foreseeable since at least January, seeing what was happening in China. The administration preferred to believe that it could stop this virus at the borders.

Now we know that the administration will not be able to fulfill its commitment to get more coronavirus tests out this week. VP Mike Pence admitted this. Notice the juxtaposition with the paragraph preceding the admission in the NYT report:

In China, residents of Wuhan who have been confined to their homes for weeks minced few words when the vice prime minister visited on Thursday. As the central government has crowed about a reduction in new cases, the people at the center of the outbreak who have most borne the brunt of the government’s initial cover-up, literally shouted from their windows: “Fake! Everything is fake!”

Americans scrambled to make plans after schools were abruptly closed in Washington State and New York City and struggled to make sense of conflicting information from President Trump and members of his own cabinet. Vice President Mike Pence who previously vowed that “any American could be tested,” on Thursday conceded that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”

Do you know why we know about the massive outbreak in Seattle? Because local physicians got around federal regulations and created their own test! Here’s the incredible story:

Washington State health authorities announced late Friday that they have found a case of Covid-19 in a teenager from Snohomish County, north of Seattle. The teen had not traveled outside the country and had no known contact with a confirmed Covid-19 patient, meaning this was likely a case of community transmission of the virus. This was the first such case for Washington State and one of the first four or five detected in the country.

The case was actually found by the Seattle Flu Study. Bedford, a co-investigator, normally works on influenza but has been one of the key players trying to assess what is happening with the new virus by studying genetic sequences from around the world.

Frustrated by the lack of testing resulting from the problem with the CDC-developed kit, the Seattle Flu Study began using an in-house developed test to look for Covid-19 in samples from people who had flu-like symptoms but who had tested negative for flu. That work — permissible because it was research — uncovered the Snohomish County teenager.

More:

[Computational biologist Trevor] Bedford said Seattle faces a stark choice — take aggressive actions to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus now or face the type of outbreak that engulfed Wuhan’s health facilities and led to a lockdown of the city that remains in place six weeks later.

Seattle is effectively in the position that Wuhan was on Jan. 1, when it first recognized it had an outbreak of a new virus, but did not realize the scale of the problem or the speed at which the virus was spreading, Bedford said.

Here is a March 5 statement from a quarantined nurse in northern California:

As a nurse, I’m very concerned that not enough is being done to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I know because I am currently sick and in quarantine after caring for a patient who tested positive. I’m awaiting “permission” from the federal government to allow for my testing, even after my physician and county health professional ordered it.

I volunteered to be on the care team for this patient, who we knew was positive. I did this because I had all the recommended protective gear and training from my employer. I did this assuming that if something happened to me, of course I too would be cared for.

Then, what was a small concern after a few days of caring for this patient, became my reality: I started getting sick. When employee health told me that my fever and other symptoms fit the criteria for potential coronavirus, I was put on a 14-day self-quarantine. Since the criteria was met, the testing would be done.

My doctor ordered the test through the county. The public county officer called me and verified my symptoms and agreed with testing. But the National CDC would not initiate testing. They said they would not test me because if I were wearing the recommended protective equipment, then I wouldn’t have the coronavirus.

What kind of science-based answer is that? What a ridiculous and uneducated response from the department that is in charge of our health in this country.

Later, they called back, and now it’s an issue with something called the “identifier number.” They claim they prioritize running samples by illness severity and that there are only so many to give out each day. So I have to wait in line to find out the results.

This is not the ticket dispenser at the deli counter; it’s a public health emergency! I am a registered nurse, and I need to know if I am positive before going back to caring for patients. I am appalled at the level of bureaucracy that’s preventing nurses from getting tested. That is a health care decision my doctor and my county health department agree with. Delaying this test puts the whole community at risk.

I have the backing of my union. Nurses aren’t going to stand by and let this testing delay continue; we are going to stand together to make sure we can protect our patients—by being protected ourselves.

I remind you that the administration had at least a month to prepare for this eventuality.

Here in Baton Rouge, coronavirus is barely making the local media. Most officials and the media here seem to be treating it like it’s a story about other people living far away. We have no idea how many people are infected here. If anybody is talking about closing schools or public gatherings, it’s not being communicated to the public.

Do you believe senior public health officials? I want to, but the president has been so bound and determined to downplay this whole thing that I feel like yelling, like a fed-up Wuhanite, “Fake! Everything is fake!” Jeremy Konyndyk was director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance in the second Obama administration:

The president tweeted this yesterday:

This is propaganda. We only have that many cases because we are barely testing for them, because the Trump administration did not prepare the tests. In truth, we don’t know how many cases we have now. Fake! Everything is fake!

As my colleague Daniel Larison writes:

There is a quote from the miniseries Chernobyl that seems appropriate to cite here: “When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember that it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.”

UPDATE:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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