With a different president in the White House, Americans might be able to take a certain level of competent preparation for potential public health crises for granted. With Donald Trump at the helm, they can not. At a Tuesday all-Senators briefing about the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus, which originated in China but has been spreading elsewhere, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) hammered Trump administration officials over an apparent lack of adequate preparation for the virus’s potential continued spread in the U.S. So far, 57 cases and counting have been reported in the U.S., mostly affecting individuals who’d recently traveled overseas.
Seemingly either incapable or unwilling of considering the existence of the virus as anything other than a threat to his ego, Trump has personally downplayed the situation. On Tuesday, he called the growing illness a “problem that’s going to go away.”
On Tuesday, in discussion with officials from agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Romney countered:
‘I’m very disappointed in the degree to which we’ve prepared for a pandemic, both in terms of protective equipment and in terms of medical devices that would help people once they are infected. At this stage, I think we are substantially underinvesting in what would be appropriate for a setting which could be serious… We don’t know what the future holds. I think we should be pulling out all the stops.’
Just this Tuesday, CDC official Nancy Messonnier insisted that Americans are no longer facing a question of if but when the virus spreads further in the country. More than 77,000 cases of the virus have been reported in China, while overall across the entire globe, the virus has claimed the lives of around 2,700 people and counting. Other countries besides China with high outbreaks include Italy, with more than 280 cases, South Korea, with more than 970 cases, and Iran, with some 95 cases or so.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who often allies himself with Trump quite closely, has joined the chorus of those sounding an alarm about the lack of seemingly competent preparations for possible further U.S. outbreaks. During a Tuesday hearing, he confronted acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who was unable to answer basic questions about the amount of material like masks and respirators that might be needed to deal with the virus.
‘You’re the secretary, I think you ought to know that answer.’
At the Tuesday briefing alongside Romney, Kennedy insisted that the administration needs to get their act together and deal with “some real basic questions that the American people need answers to.”
Whether those answers will come soon remains to be seen. For now, HHS has requested some $2.5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the virus, although officials like Wolf and HHS Secretary Alex Azar gave conflicting answers about issues like when a vaccine against the virus might be available. Meanwhile, Trump just keeps babbling on about how great he is, leaving dealing with these public issues to everyone else around.