Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke to graduates delivered a remote address this week to graduates of Johns Hopkins University, urging them to stay strong, and telling them that "Now is the time, if ever there was one, for us to care selflessly about one another." But Fauci didn’t deliver this message as a part of Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. That’s because since May 10, Fauci has been in self quarantine after a possible exposure to COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr Robert Redfield is also in isolation. So is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn.
That temporary exile is set to end this weekend, but while they’ve been offstage, Dr. Deborah Birx has proven herself a loyal Trump lieutenant; ever willing to stand in the background as Trump urges Americans to take a dangerous off-label drug, attacks the CDC for trying to provide guidelines for safe conduct of business, or openly attacks the results of scientific studies. BIrx willingness to be the Kellyanne of medical advice, always up to twist the facts to fit the latest Trump statement, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Because there’s a plan on the table to hand over global pandemic response to Birx and create a whole new health organization … inside the State Department.
According to Politico this plan was put forward at a meeting of the National Security Council. It would see the international role currently held by USAID stripped away. Instead, power would be centralized in the safely inspector-general-free State Department, with Birx as the expected head of this new division.
But the authority of the new organization would go beyond USAID’s responsibilities. With Trump threatening to pull the United States out of the World Health Organization “permanently,” this new operation would form a sort of home-grown alternative. Only this version would be completely under the thumb of Pompeo and Trump. It would be this new faux WHO that determined the distribution of vaccines, and managed the response to any outbreak.
And they have a name for it: the President’s Response to Outbreaks. Otherwise known as PRO.
It’s painfully difficult to think about anything in Donald Trump’s pandemic response that might be considered pro. Or even amateur. In fact, Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic … should start any minute now. Between failing to coordinate a national testing plan, failing to institute a system of case tracing, and failing to provide a uniform set of standards and guidelines, the real acronym for any Trump’s health organization should be ABSENT. But it figures that he would cobble together the most awkward label in history, just to make sure that he was part of it.
Of course, USAID has a staff made up of experts in epidemiology, health policy, and medical logistics. The State Department has none of those. Which doesn’t meant that PRO won’t be the best in the world at what Trump wants—explaining how people dying in mass is a big, big win.
According to Politico, Staffers at USAID have also “questioned whether now is an appropriate time to overhaul the existing response model given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.” But given that Trump has already seen fit to cut off aid to WHO, steal PPE and ventilators on their way to blue states, and promote policies that have people brewing COVID-19 medicine in their bathtubs, it seems surprising at this point that anyone would be surprised.
As of Saturday afternoon, the death count in the United States stands at 98,500. If that’s the kind of leadership PRO fill be offering, it’s not clear who will be interested.