In 2016, officials working at the National Security Council developed a handbook for dealing with global pandemics — and during the current Coronavirus outbreak that has hammered the U.S. and world, the Trump administration has apparently completely ignored the document. Those working in the Trump administration have consistently lauded their own plans that they have followed, but the ignored handbook outlines solutions to a slew of problems that have actually emerged in this situation. For example, medical workers’ struggles to obtain adequate personal protective equipment during the Coronavirus outbreak have been well-documented — and according to the handbook’s timetable, the federal government should have begun stockpiling that material in late January, which would have helped the current situation.
UPDATE: California has distributed 24.5 million N95 masks. We have now ordered 100 million new masks.
But it isn’t enough. We’re working around the clock to secure the personal protective equipment needed for those on the frontlines of #COVID19.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) March 25, 2020
The steps outlined by the playbook are called for if there’s indication that a potential pandemic virus has begun to spread person-to-person — which was confirmed in the Coronavirus case on January 22. The playbook also calls for preparatory steps to get underway if a public health emergency is declared in the U.S., which in this case occurred on January 31. No matter these developments, and the timed pandemic response plan that could have led the way, the Trump administration lagged big time.
“It is insane that in the wealthiest country in the world… health care workers do not have all of the personal protective equipment," @NYCSpeakerCoJo says. "To see those photos of nurses and doctors wearing garbage bags is shameful and it is shocking.”https://t.co/R3gq9QT4Io pic.twitter.com/eAERh92sqa
— New Day (@NewDay) March 26, 2020
Overall, the pandemic response plan outlines “hundreds of tactics and key policy decisions,” POLITICO notes. These tactics include questioning the official count of cases and ordering production under the Defense Production Act to help make up for lagging supplies — both of which the Trump administration has failed to accomplish. The president and his allies have praised U.S. testing capacity, although it took weeks on end to even close to meet demand, and the Trump team has alleged that the Defense Production Act isn’t needed.
Big business has apparently been pressuring the president not to use the Defense Production Act to order desperately-needed medical supplies. Special interest influence is not usually quite this outrageous. https://t.co/SkIoWYO3ub
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) March 26, 2020
Demanding a “unified message” from the federal government about their pandemic response efforts, the handbook asserts:
‘The U.S. government will use all powers at its disposal to prevent, slow or mitigate the spread of an emerging infectious disease threat. The American public will look to the U.S. government for action when multi-state or other significant events occur… While each emerging infectious disease threat will present itself in a unique way, a consistent, capabilities-based approach to addressing these threats will allow for faster decisions with more targeted expert subject matter input from federal departments and agencies.’
Yet, not even a remotely unified message has come through — the president and top public health officials have sometimes contradicted each other at the very same briefing, like when Trump touted malaria drugs as a supposed treatment for Coronavirus although they’d yet to be formally tested or approved.
The pandemic handbook “never went through a full, National Security Council-led interagency process to be approved as Trump administration strategy,” POLITICO reports.
The best way we can show our thanks to our frontline health care workers is by getting them the personal protective equipment they need to carry out their task. #FamiliesFirst #SitRoom pic.twitter.com/Ext1aNGNPa
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) March 26, 2020
The document was apparently part of the purview of the pandemic response office at the National Security Council, which the Trump administration completely dissolved in 2018 as part of their streamlining efforts. Beth Cameron, who oversaw the document at one point, said that it “just sat as a document that people worked on that was thrown onto a shelf,” and it’s “hard to tell how much senior leaders at agencies were even aware that this existed.” Yet, as deaths accumulate across the U.S., more careful planning could have saved some Americans’ lives.