Even before the U.S. had its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on January 21, the Trump administration knew that the outbreak was a threat. As the disease was spreading in other countries, intelligence officials issued classified reports warning that a global pandemic was extremely likely. And the Department of Health and Human Services training exercises from 2019 showed that in the event of a pandemic, U.S. hospitals would be overwhelmed and resource-deprived.
Despite those early warnings, Trump's administration didn't immediately take action to shore up supplies of essential medical equipment, like ventilators, gowns, and N95 respirator masks. In fact, according to the Associated Press, the federal government didn't start making orders for bulk production of that gear until the middle of March. Kathleen Sebelius, head of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama, told the AP, "We basically wasted two months."
That two-month delay has caused chaos across the country as states and hospitals have been left on their own to scramble to cover shortages, often forced to compete against each other for resources from private companies. The result is nurses wearing trash bags and hospitals reusing disposable masks in the effort to have at least some kind of protective barrier for health care workers. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, even sent the team plane to China to pick up 1.2 million N95 masks, after Massachusetts got outbid for PPE. As New York governor Andrew Cuomo put it in a press conference last week, "You have 50 states competing to buy the same item. We all wind up bidding up each other and competing against each other. You now literally will have a company call you up and say, well, California just outbid you." Cuomo has called for a "nationwide buying consortium" of states working together to buy in bulk without undercutting each other, which is—in theory at least—the role that a functioning federal government is supposed to play.
In response, the Trump administration seems to be denying that it's supposed to help states fight the outbreak, despite having a federal stockpile of equipment. Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, who for some reason has been appointed to oversee coronavirus response, complained at a press briefing last week that, "The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use." Of course, the stockpiles are meant to be used for states. Trump has also claimed that governors are "supposed" to be conducting tests and that the federal government is "not a shipping clerk." And he has also blamed states for being "totally unprepared," and tweeted that too many states and hospitals were demanding equipment, saying, "Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?)"
When AP reporters asked Trump about the two-month delay between the domestic coronavirus outbreak and the federal government reacting, the president became angry, saying, "FEMA, the military, what they’ve done is a miracle. What they’ve done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for states is incredible." He then abruptly ended the press briefing.
While the Trump administration stalled on increasing the number of masks and respirators for two months, officials have known about the shortages for more than two years. Documents obtained by The Nation, show the Pentagon warned the White House as early as 2017 that a "novel respiratory disease" would likely overwhelm American hospitals. The report warns that "Competition for, and scarcity of resources will include... ventilators, devices, personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves," adding, "This will have a significant impact on the availability of the global workforce."
The Trump administration got warnings, even while the president was publicly insisting that the federal government had the outbreak "under control," claiming that the numbers were going "down not up," and that the virus would disappear "like a miracle" by April. As of Monday morning, the U.S. has confirmed more than 337,900 cases, almost as many as the next three countries' worst outbreaks combined, and a staggering 9,653 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
How one young doctor at a Seattle lab tried to get out in front of the coronavirus crisis by inventing his own test. And why the absurdity of his struggle should make us all afraid.
Originally Appeared on GQ