Deadline: wash your hands NOW, then ACT –
In an age where we increasingly see people distrust the truth of what they hear, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 represents a blazing reality check. Pandemics don’t care about politics. Viruses don’t care who you vote for or what you believe is true. They proceed along their path, and the only thing that affects their spread is how we manage them. Making grandiose and ignorant claims about how they work (or whether it’s okay to go to work if you’ve got one – yes, he said that, and no, you should not!) doesn’t affect their course one bit. People in all nations have a choice: we can either choose to manage COVID-19 aggressively, as South Korea has, and contain its spread – or, as China, Iran, Italy, and others are finding out, we can ignore the warnings and be faced with economic and societal upheavals, and then madly scramble to prevent them from overwhelming us.
We were warned there would come a time we would have a crisis that can’t be treated like reality TV and can’t be avoided by ignoring it or lying about it. People said again and again that the Current Occupant wouldn’t just be unwilling to take on the necessary and urgent management and leadership, he wouldn’t know how. They were right. In this real-life crisis he’s incompetent and – even worse – he’s interfering with the people who know what they’re doing.
We need Congress to work together to put a stop to this: to avert a public health disaster and to keep this incompetent president and his Administration from continuing to endanger our lives for their political gain.
What you can do:
Tell your Members of Congress (1) to demand that the effort to contain the epidemic be directed by those who understand it, and (2) to stop the Administration’s attempts to mislead us about the dangers and how to manage them.
What to say:
My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want ________ to do everything possible to make sure that the effort to contain the spread of coronavirus is managed properly. It needs to be handled by public health experts, not White House cronies. Testing and treatment must be available to all who need it regardless of income level or origin. Anyone who can’t afford to skip work must be protected so they don’t lose their jobs or homes while under quarantine. I also want ________ to speak out loudly against the President and Administration for trying to mislead the public about the disease and its consequences by stifling accurate public health information. This administration is endangering our safety and we can’t trust them to act in the public interest.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
- Senator Kamala Harris (email) CA: (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553
- Representative Mark DeSaulnier (email); CA: (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
- Representative Barbara Lee (email); CA: (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661:
- Representative Eric Swalwell (email); CA: (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065
Why is the American response to coronavirus so far behind? There are a number of reasons:
Pandemic responses are very complex and require serious planning and infrastructure worldwide to be effective: For instance, in 2014 the Obama Administration coordinated the global response to Ebola and left behind infrastructure for future outbreaks. In 2018, however, the Trump Administration deliberately disassembled American institutions’ ability to respond to a pandemic by:
- Revoking funding for the Obama era infrastructure
- Eliminating the National Security Council’s Global Health Security office
- Cutting the CDC’s budget for preventing global disease by 80%
- Dramatically reducing all spending designed to deal with disease outside U.S. borders
- Effectively eliminating training for hospital workers, the people on the ground in an epidemic
- And further destruction continues to this day.
Testing for any disease is one of the most important steps in containment: Knowing where infected people are and how many there are allows resources to be directed where they’re most needed. Yet as of March 9, 2020 the U.S says it has tested 8,554 people out of 327 million – that’s roughly 3 out of every 100,000 people in the country. These are the official U.S. numbers, but they are not known to be reliable – independent investigations are coming up with even lower numbers. By comparison, South Korea, which is containing the epidemic, tested more than 10000 people per day. There are still test shortages and tremendous lack of clarity on how to get tested in this country. The medical community believes we are “behind the curve” on testing.
Federal guidance and information about the state of the disease is, well, pretty much worthless:
- Vaccines: The President claimed the U.S. was “very close to a vaccine.” Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security – not a health expert – told Congress a vaccine would be ready in “several months”; Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services told Congress a vaccine could be ready in “a year.” At a public meeting of the coronavirus task force the President repeated that “pretty much a year would be an outside number.” But Dr. Antony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, and Leonard Schleifer, the CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, both members of that task force, promptly contradicted this, saying it would take a year to a year and a half to produce a vaccine.
- Tests: The President claimed on March 6 that “Anybody that wants a test can get a test” (also calling the tests “beautiful”). The Vice President – not a health expert – claimed a million tests would be available on March 4. Yet Alex Azar said on March 10 that Health and Human Services doesn’t know even how many people have received tests, let alone what the test results are.
- Reported cases: Trump claimed on February 26 that the number of cases of coronavirus was 15 and that “the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero.” His economic adviser Larry Kudlow – not a health expert – said “We have contained this, it’s pretty close to airtight.” This directly contradicted the CDC and in fact the number of cases has kept growing: as of March 11, it has reached nearly 1000, with infected individuals in 39 states. You can see up-to-date numbers from the CDC here. Unfortunately, it appears that the count may be far higher even than this, because the CDC may be working with incomplete information and may be unable to keep track of, or may no longer be reporting, test results collected other than by the CDC itself.
That leaves us with uncoordinated responses by individual states, who must act without any overall guidance. However, state public health departments are inconsistent in how they report results, and their data is scattered among websites and difficult to find, let alone understand.
Wow. That’s a lot. Is that all? Please say yes …
No. It’s not all. Not by a long shot. Catch your breath. There’s even worse:
The government, and in particular Trump, show a fundamental lack of understanding of how disease works. The President has made a number of claims in public interviews that don’t pass a fact check or are “just a hunch.” All of these claims by Trump are dangerously ignorant, misleading and flat out wrong:
- The U.S. is “rapidly developing a vaccine”: Don’t hold your breath for a year to a year and a half.
- The fatality rate of “the flu is much higher”: COVID-19’s fatality rate estimates vary but the official rate of 3.4% is 34 times higher than the flu’s 0.1%. Even an estimate of 2-3% is over 20 times higher.
- The official death rate of coronavirus of 3.4% is “really a false number” and infected people will “get better rapidly.” In his own words: “this is just my hunch.”
- “I would’ve said, “Does anybody die from the flu?” I didn’t know people died from the flu.” Tens of thousands a year, thanks for asking. Well, that’s better than 50 million worldwide in 1918, right?
- The case total is in decline: “we’re going down, not up.” Maybe in the Upside Down. The numbers are going up, and – as is normal in an epidemic – they are going up exponentially. That means the number of people infected goes from small enough to manage to overwhelming very abruptly: Italy went from 3 cases to nearly 10,000 in a month. The majority of those cases were in the last week. Cases in the U.S are following a similar trajectory, as are those worldwide. (Still not completely clear about the exponential thing? Here’s a good graphic based on COVID cases.) This is really important because at a certain point, hospitals suddenly get completely overwhelmed, very fast. And if this happens, there’s another huge danger: people won’t be able to get medical care for other conditions from hospitals that are beyond capacity.
And it keeps going… Have we said it enough? Not a health expert! We need information on the epidemic to come from actual experts, not from one man who plays the expert on TV! If the facts ever matter it’s here: In an epidemic, lies literally kill people.
The President is personally hostile to treating the epidemic seriously because he believes doing so could hurt his re-election chances.
- He openly stated on March 6 that he is trying to keep the reported numbers down. As opposed to the actual numbers.
- He claimed on Feb. 26 that reports from his own agencies about the epidemic were attempts to “make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets.”
- On Feb. 28 he called the coronavirus a hoax. Mick Mulvaney, acting Chief of Staff – not a health expert – claimed the coronavirus was a media attempt to hurt the campaign’s re-election chances.
- Trump has been pressing for a coronavirus vaccine before the election.
- The Administration ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to classify coronavirus deliberations.
Incompetence? Political brinksmanship? Malice? Does it even matter? Bottom line: The nominal leader of the country has singlehandedly made the epidemic crisis far worse than it might have been.
If this is depressing to read, take a deep breath and then take action. We need our elected leaders to do everything they can do protect us, which means they have to deal with the single individual who is sabotaging efforts every step of the way. And we have to relentlessly press them to do so. People’s lives are now quite literally on the line. Pick up your phone, open your email, and tell them so.