The Trump White House has no excuses for its lack of pandemic preparedness. None. Every few days we learn about yet another warning from the past, another way some part of the government tried to prepare for a pandemic, only to have Team Trump ignore all the preparation and waste months denying that coronavirus was a danger to the United States, while the virus spread and our chances to contain it ebbed away.
The latest is a National Security Council pandemic playbook from 2016, building on the lessons of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Some of the topics covered feel like they could have been written specifically for COVID-19. “Is there sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are providing medical care?” it asks, among many other important questions. “If YES: What are the triggers to signal exhaustion of supplies? Are additional supplies available? If NO: Should the Strategic National Stockpile release PPE to states?”
That’s not the only part that feels like a time-traveler’s pointed rebuke to how the Trump administration has handled COVID-19. “What is our level of confidence on the case detection rate?” the playbook asks. “Is diagnostic capacity keeping up?”
The playbook also emphasizes the importance of a coordinated response and offers insights into how the different federal agencies and departments could work together. “Encouraging top officials to jockey for power and suck up to a president obsessed with his personal political future” is not one of the suggestions.
The Trump White House claims it didn’t use the document for Very Good Reasons. “We are aware of the document, although it’s quite dated and has been superseded by strategic and operational biodefense policies published since,” an NSC official told Politico. “The plan we are executing now is a better fit, more detailed, and applies the relevant lessons learned from the playbook and the most recent Ebola epidemic in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to COVID-19.”
Ha ha ha ha ha sob, they’re executing a plan that’s better fit and more detailed, they say.
I’d say this was taking it a little far with the determination to scrap everything that came from the Obama administration, but when you look at the other ways Trump has abandoned pandemic preparedness, it may not even be that specific. He fired a pandemic response team. The Department of Health and Human Services staged a simulated pandemic last fall but still managed to be unprepared when this one hit, while the Department of Homeland Security stopped holding pandemic simulations.
Then again, maybe Trump early on realized that pandemic preparedness was something Obama had done and decided to send it the way of everything else Obama did, like health care and environmental and labor protections. The fact that the Obama administration’s transition team included a pandemic in disaster response exercises during the Trump transition—yet another chance Team Trump had to be prepared to not completely screw this up—might be a clue on that front. Either way, Trump has failed and failed hard despite all of the government preparation for a pandemic over recent years, and hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to pay with their lives.