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Are We There Yet?

If you're a parent and have been on a long trip with your young children, you may relate to this: you've packed the car up, belted the kids in, and left the driveway. Fifteen minutes into the 400-mile leg of a cross-country journey to Disneyland, the 8-year-old in the back seat says, "Are we there yet?" I can't help thinking of this when I watch the Coronavirus Task Force briefings through March 21st (at least to this date. This may continue indefinitely I fear).

The president sounds like that kid in the back seat, wanting the journey to be over, eager to arrive at the exciting destination of the greatest bull stock market ever, having valiantly vanquished the "invisible enemy." He really has not grasped what the doctors and scientists in the front seat (at least, they are the adults and they should be driving the car) know, which is that the journey to the end of this pandemic is only beginning. Unfortunately for America and the world, this kid is not belted into the back seat; he's driving the car at the moment. This is not good.

Now it's great to be positive and look at the bright side. We all want to get back to a thriving economy and go about our business freely as soon as possible. But this cross-country trip is going through tornado territory at the height of the season. Someone who has never thought of what happens during a pandemic, and keeps saying no one expected this disastrous situation, should not be driving the car.

Many experts - public health professionals, scientists, doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, researchers - anticipated and are not surprised at what is happening now because of the particular characteristics of this virus, compounded by inadequate federal preparedness and tardy response. There are many lessons learned reports and recommendations for how to be ready for a fast-moving novel disease that becomes a worst-case pandemic.  Public health leaders should be in charge. But with this president in charge, the task force is crammed in the back seat - not advisable for many reasons especially when we should all be 6 feet apart practicing social distancing -- and the 8-year-old is driving.  And devotedly riding shotgun is the vice president, who could be counted among the adults in the car if he simply would do the right thing, stop indulging the kid, and give the scientists control of the steering wheel.

I have taken the time to listen to several of the task force briefings through March 21. I may have missed something so this should be double checked. But I have not heard ANY mention of the danger of overwhelming the hospitals and losing medical staff to the virus in task force briefings. There is no sense of urgency, no attempt to convey to the American public that the hot spots experiencing big spikes in numbers of cases and deaths now are previews of what will happen in the rest of the country if the entire country does not act NOW to practice social distancing. No emphasis on flattening the curve and what that means. Instead, the task force members emphasize it's important to follow the president's guidelines for 15 days. This piece of paper with blue background and lots of words in small type - no illustrations and never blown up so that viewers could actually read the points in it - is held up at these briefings for our edification. We are encouraged to connect to a website to read it. I don't think anyone has stressed - in fact Dr Fauci might be the only one who may have even mentioned - social distancing. The term social distancing is not mentioned in the president's guidelines. As I write this on March 23, 2020, we are in the middle of the 15 days the president's guidelines are to be observed. The president is focused on hoping a few existing drugs may be useful in treating Covid-19, rather than doing what is necessary to keep Americans from getting the disease in the first place. He is also interested in helping various industries, especially mentioning the tourist and hotel industries, in which he has a financial stake. 

At the bottom of ProvGardener's website's page, "US Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Notes," which is a work in progress, dates preceding the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak link to some of the reports about what was known and what had happened before the pandemic began. The president is trying to get off the hook now by saying he inherited a "broken" system. He certainly inherited an incomplete plan. But he has had three years to fix things. His cabinet members and incoming staff participated in a pandemic simulation exercise on January 13, 2017, before his inauguration. Lessons learned regarding ebola have been on the web for everyone to see for several years. Epidemic preparedness and response reports date back to at least 2005. Other countries that experienced earlier epidemics learned from their mistakes, had plans in place before the first case of Covid-19 was identified in their countries, and aggressively and so far, successfully, implemented their plans. WHO has comprehensive information. Even the CDC actually knows what to do. Steps required to stop the spread included more than stopping flights from affected countries. Why is the Coronavirus Task Force still muddling around?

An article published on the NY Times website March 22, "The Virus Can be Stopped but Only with Harsh Steps, the Experts Say,"  is based on interviews with experienced professionals who have successfully worked to control and end past epidemics. Here are the steps:

  • Scientists must be heard
  • Stop transmission between cities
  • Stop transmission within cities
  • Fix the testing mess
  • Isolate the infected
  • Find the fevers
  • Trace the contacts
  • Make masks ubiquitous
  • Preserve vital services
  • Produce ventilators and oxygen
  • Retrofit hospitals
  • Decide when to close schools
  • Recruit volunteers
  • Prioritize the treatments
  • Find a vaccine
  • Reach out to other nations

ALL of these steps should have been taken beginning in January, not just keeping people from China out. Opportunities to respond were missed. But at this point, we should expect the Coronavirus Task Force to take ALL of these steps NOW. Will they finally rise to the occasion? Are we there yet?

Taxpayers wlll hold this administration accountable for failure to implement all the proven recommended responses to this pandemic. Human beings make mistakes, though, and humbly recognizing and acknowledging failures, and quickly correcting course for the public good, could have focused the public's attention and secured cooperation during this serious crisis. The people on the front lines don't have time for blaming anyone. But their cries for help are being dismissed as unnecessay overreaction and political attacks on the president. The current federal response is woefully and catastrophically inadequate. If it continues like this the eventual judgment will be harsh.

As the number of cases exponentially increases daily, we're experiencing a tsunami of information and stories about the virus. News sources are updating their websites by the minute. Selecting what to highlight is challenging. But here's the latest report relevant to this post from the NY Times Monday, March 23, around 11 am:

"Trump warns against letting the ‘cure’ become ‘worse than the problem itself.’

[The following is from the NY Times web posting NY Times Monday, March 23, around 11 am - On March 28 I can't find a link to this any longer]

As public health officials and leaders around the world braced their populations for a struggle that could continue for months, President Trump signaled that measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus could have their limits.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he wrote on Twitter. “At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision which way we want to go!”

Early last week, the White House released guidelines — effective for 15 days — urging Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and recommending that people work from home, avoid unnecessary shopping trips and refrain from eating in restaurants.

Many states and cities have since imposed even stricter measures, with one in four people in America now under some form of restricted movement.

The point of locking down entire cities and nations has been to give health care systems time to gear up so they do not find themselves overwhelmed by a surge of patients. And as the number of known cases in the United States crossed 31,700, governors from multiple states warned that they were still not ready....

[End of NY Times quote]


Mr. president, it's past time to decide which way to go. And it isn't a matter of which way we WANT to go, but of which way we MUST go now. It's clear what we need to do ASAP.