Evidence mounts that Trump is squashing federal response to coronavirus
Patients wait in line while wearing protective masks and gloves for a COVID-19 test at Brooklyn Hospital Center, Sunday, March 29, 2020, in Brooklyn borough of New York. Testing kits and supplies remain in short supply across the nation, but at a meeting with governors Monday, President Trump tried to claim he hasn't heard of any test problems "for weeks." | John Minchillo / AP

The figures as of this morning are horrific. More than 173,000 Americans are infected—well over twice the number infected in China, which has four times as many people as the United States. More than 3,400 are dead—also more than in China, where the pandemic started. The nation’s top health officials say that if everything goes “perfectly,” we will “only” have up to 200,000 dead. If things don’t go perfectly, it could be in the millions, they say.

Already, New York’s hospitals are loading the bodies into refrigerated trucks parked outside because their morgues are full. And when it comes to testing, or rather the lack of it, the figures are beyond belief. The United States is far behind every single other developed country in the world when it comes to the percentage of people tested.

Other than the daily public relations show performed on national television by Donald Trump, there is no coordinated national response. Trump has not fully invoked the Defense Production Act which allows the government to order private companies to produce what is needed. There is no national stay-at-home order, despite the fact that the United States is now the hardest-hit nation on the planet.

The lack of a coordinated national response has resulted in a complicated patchwork of responses on the state, city, town, and county levels all across the country—and many of those are inadequate.

Florida has the sixth-largest number of cases in the country and only this morning did the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, issue a stay-at-home order and that was only for the counties around Miami, on the southern tip of the state.

In 24 hours, Missouri had a 600% increase in infections, yet the Republican governor there refuses to institute a statewide stay-at-home order. The state’s nurses have pleaded with him to do so, begging him to act now to save their lives. So far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Yesterday, Trump said in his daily show that he had met with the nation’s governors earlier in the day and that they were “happy” with “what we have done.” Someone taped the meeting, however, and it was played on national television last night. It presented a very different picture than the one painted by Trump in his public remarks.

On the tape, Montana’s Gov. Bullock was heard pleading with Trump for tests and telling him that as of today his state would be unable to test anyone. Bullock was answering a question from Dr. Anthony Fauci about how he was assessing the state of the pandemic in different parts of Montana. Despite having just heard what the problem is in Montana, Trump responded by saying that he hadn’t heard what he just had heard—any complaints about testing. He claimed to have not heard about any problems with testing or lack of test kits “for weeks.”

Governors, hospitals, mayors and more have, of course, been complaining daily for a month or more about lack of testing. When tests have arrived, they are often missing crucial parts like the swabs the professionals need to administer them. Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia is saying today he has the same problem Bullock has in Montana.

Trump reiterated to the governors that the federal government’s role is to “back up and assist” them but that it is the states themselves that are responsible for fighting the virus.

Later in the day, he essentially admitted to the absurdity of his idea last week to pack the churches on Easter. But rather than switching gears and mounting a federal response, he instead lowered the bar for the federal government, essentially declaring that if “only” 200,000 died, the federal government could declare “victory.”

Sabotaging the war effort

Trump’s failure to nationalize the response to the crisis amounts to nothing less than sabotage of the war against this disease.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the CEOs of many major companies are explaining why nationalization of the supply chain—an act that Trump refuses to take—is so important.

Companies producing masks, for example, say that when they get them ready for shipment, they have no idea where they should be sent. That determination should be made by the federal government. Producers don’t even know the zip codes to which the materials can be dispatched.

People are dying because of the lack of a national supply chain.

Just one example of why: A hospital in New York is a day away from having no ventilators. Doctors at NYU Medical have been given permission to decide on their own who gets intubation and who doesn’t—to decide who lives and who dies. A hospital in another state has 20 unused ventilators. With a coordinated national supply chain, the resources needed could be shifted instantly. The army, for example, has helicopters and planes that can transport things quickly and efficiently. A federal system could move those ventilators from where they are to where they are needed. Those NYU doctors would not have to be forced to play God.

Perhaps most insulting yesterday to the governors, the doctors, the sick, the dying, and to all Americans was the president’s claim that “the testing problem is solved.” He said this while his country, the hardest hit in the world by this virus, has failed to get test kits out to the hospitals and communities that need them. Are we to believe that all those governors and all those hospitals and all those doctors from coast to coast are merely imagining that they have no test kits?

“We don’t need you to be a backup,” the governors essentially told Trump yesterday, “We need you to be the star leader,” Gov. Jay Insley of Washington state said.

Numbers continue to explode

As they pleaded with him, outbreaks were exploding in Detroit, Atlanta, and New Orleans, hospitals were overflowing in New York, and tents to house the sick were being pitched in Central Park. The infection curve in New York remained worse than it is in northern Italy.

The one bit of good news, if you could call it that, in Washington state, resulted from local and state efforts, not from any federal help. Seattle Mayor Jenny Duncan noted that because her city did an early lockdown, it has cut the infection rate from 1 infected person spreading coronavirus to 4 other people down to 1 infecting, on average, only 1.4 others.

She urged that “every city and state act now” to lock down but said the federal government had to move on the crisis. “Flattening the curve means only that we don’t overwhelm our hospitals; it is not the end of the battle,” she said.

Andy Slavitt, the well-known health adviser to the Obama administration, said: “Duncan is right and that only when the transmission rate goes down under 1 to 1 can we start to defeat the virus, but then only if we have detection and testing.” (But Trump tells us we no longer have to worry about testing.)

On the New York crisis, Slavitt offered a grim assessment yesterday, saying at least 20,000 can be expected to die there.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut added his voice to those calling for a coordinated federal response and attacking Trump’s public relations approach to the crisis. On MSNBC last night, he said:

“The president sees his only responsibility as managing a public relations campaign; he has had no comprehensive strategy since the beginning. He is not managing the federal supply line and has left most guidelines to governors and mayors—and on top of that, he dispenses bad advice. He sees his press conferences as entertainment, which he is good at—he is an entertaining liar. But it does not make for a public health response.”

Using relief supplies as a political weapon

Murphy added that, “On Feb. 5, during the impeachment deliberations, Trump’s top administration figures met with senators to brief us on the coronavirus and that when the senators offered to pull together an emergency federal dollar response, the president said, ‘No we have this, we don’t need that.’ They had an ideological belief,” Murphy said, “that no federal response was needed here.”

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has falsely claimed that the Democrats caused the delay in Trump’s response with their impeachment effort.

Murphy also scored Trump for favoring his political pals in the coronavirus crisis, with Florida, which has a Republican governor, getting everything it asked for and Michigan, which has a Democratic governor, getting a canceled shipment. “Feels like Ukraine all over,” Murphy said. “He is using emergency relief to get people to do his political bidding; if you get his back we will send you what you need.”

The ideological decision to squash any meaningful federal response continues to cost lives. Today, we are seeing one person die every three minutes, and that figure can grow much worse.

In California, the infections doubled in four days, and the number in intensive care tripled over those four days.

The VA system is buckling under the growing number of cases, with 71 at the VA hospital in Brooklyn and 239 in New Orleans.

Nurses stand on a hill outside the emergency entrance to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx borough of New York, March 28, as they demonstrate with members of the New York Nursing Association in support of obtaining an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for those treating coronavirus patients. A member of the New York nursing community died earlier in the week at another New York hospital. The city leads the nation in the number of coronavirus cases. Nurses say they are having to reuse their protective equipment endangering patients and themselves. President Trump continues to insist supply problems are exaggerated and refuses to use the Defense Production Act to coordinate supplies. | Kathy Willens / AP

The Marines have had to close their Paris Island base.

A nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York cried aloud on national television last night about the one deteriorating mask she had. “Why, why, why,” she sobbed, “can’t the federal government get us the masks and the gowns they promised us? We are getting sick, and we are dying.”

Trump’s response: Reporters should investigate to see if masks are “going out the back door.”

The mayor of New York City and the governor of New York, it turns out, had asked that coronavirus patients be treated on the naval hospital ship Mercy docked now in New York Harbor. Trump, it turns out, refused and said they would only take non-coronavirus patients—just another indicator of the Trump plan for the federal government to take on as little responsibility as possible for the fight against the pandemic.

The failure of the government to set up a national supply chain and the failure to invoke the Defense Production Act naturally leads to the question: Is it incompetence or is it intentional?

On the ground, the results are the same, regardless of the answer to that question. More are dying.

The evidence continues to pile up, however, that it is an intentional policy the Trump administration is pushing—a policy that says the role of the federal government in this crisis should be kept to a bare minimum. It’s a right-wing policy which, along with the virus itself, is killing people.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.