On Wednesday, Donald Trump announced he was initiating the Defense Production Act (DPA), "just in case we need it." The DPA is a Korean War-era law that gives the president sweeping control over American manufacturing. Essentially, it lets Trump order private companies to meet demand for products vital to national security, which in this case would be anything to help states and hospitals cope with the novel coronavirus outbreak that's now affecting all 50 states.
That could be a huge boon, especially since hospitals around the world are struggling with a shortage of ventilators. Since COVID-19, the disease caused by the strain of coronavirus spreading across the globe, is a respiratory illness, ventilators are lifesaving devices for patients in intensive care. According to the Washington Post, hospitals are wary of stocking up on more machines for financial reasons in case the need for ventilators turns out to be short-lived. The cost for an individual machine ranges from $25,000 to $50,000, and under the DPA the president can take control of both production and pricing.
But although Trump has invoked the DPA, he hasn't actually done anything with it yet, tweeting that he "only" went along with it in case of "worst case scenario in the future." At a press conference on Thursday, a reporter asked Trump why he hasn't "pulled the trigger on it" yet. "Because we hope we don't need to," Trump replied. As of Thursday, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 10,000, and new figures show that a massive 40 percent of people hospitalized by the disease are younger than 55 years old. More than 100 people have already died from the disease in the U.S. In Italy, which is on a trajectory some say is 10 days ahead of the U.S., the death toll just surpassed the much more populous China, with 3,405.
The president continued, saying, "Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work." He added, "the federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items, and then shipping. We're not a shipping clerk. As with testing—the governors are supposed to be doing it."
It's not clear what Trump means when he says "governors are supposed to be doing" tests and equipment production, particularly since the tests were only available through a strict and complicated application process through the Centers for Disease Control. But Trump's insistence that the fight against a pandemic should be handled state-by-state highlights the why the American response has been so haphazard and ineffective compared to other countries.
Both South Korea and the U.S. had their first confirmed cases of coronavirus on the same day, January 20. Yet South Korea's response and containment of the disease has vastly outperformed America's—in the weeks since then South Korea has tested 290,000 people and identified over 8,000 infections, and the daily rate of infection is trending down. In comparison, the U.S. has only tested 60,000 people—only about 20 percent of the smaller South Korea—and, troublingly, has turned up almost the same number of infections, according to a new Reuters article that details why South Korea's response was so much faster and effective than the U.S.'s. One of the biggest differences is that South Korean politicians took the threat much more seriously at the outset, and immediately brought experts onto the case, while Trump, who previously disbanded the administration's pandemic unit, put vice president Mike Pence and his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge, both of whom have a dubious backgrounds in public health. South Korean officials moved on expert recommendations almost immediately to quickly verify testing procedures and then circle back to make sure they were effective—the Food and Drug Administration has created a series of absurdist bureaucratic hurdles.
Whether Trump follows through and makes use of the DPA remains to be seen. So far during this pandemic, he's seemed more invested in reminding Americans the outbreak originated in China than mirroring the best practices in countries that are starting to get it under control.
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Originally Appeared on GQ