Luciana Borio once worked on President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, but she left last year after a purge of the global health unit.
So when she realized how bad the coronavirus outbreak was likely to get — and saw that the Trump administration was not taking the necessary steps to contain it — all she could do was take her case to the public.
“Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic,” was the headline of her Jan. 28 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, in which she called for widespread testing and beefing up hospital preparedness. “The Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread at an alarming rate,” she warned in a subsequent op-ed a few days later.
Trump saw the situation much differently. While he blocked some Chinese nationals from entering the country in late January, his public message was simple: This is no big deal.
“We only have five people. Hopefully, everything's going to be great,” he said on Jan. 30. A few days later, he said, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
But in fact, the Trump administration hadn’t shut down the coronavirus. The testing that Borio and other experts called for never took place, even as Trump continued to downplay the risks and make a series of false statements that experts say muddied public understanding.
As the virus continues to spread across the United States, the nation is reeling, with schools closed, sporting and cultural events shut down, and an economy in danger of lapsing into recession. As many as 50 Americans have died.
An examination of how the Trump administration responded to the coronavirus outbreak that was first documented in December reveals a story of missed opportunities, mismanagement and a president who resisted the advice of experts urging a more aggressive response. All the while, Trump made a series of upbeat claims, some of which were flatly false, including that the number of cases was declining in the U.S. and that “anybody who needs a test gets a test.”
On Friday, Trump moved to take steps that experts said should have been done weeks ago, declaring a national emergency and launching a new, broader testing program.
Apparently, we just might have made these steps on day one when it was first reported if the President didn't decimate his National Security team.
In 2018, Trump fired his homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, whose portfolio included global pandemics. The next month, national security adviser John Bolton disbanded the NSC’s global health unit. Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the top official in charge of a pandemic response, also left his job.
So did Borio, whose title was director for medical and biodefense preparedness.
None of them was replaced. That meant Trump had no top advisers in the White House with expertise in global pandemics.
“You organize your NSC around the threats you care about,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the U.S. government’s response to international disasters under the Obama administration.
Pandemics were deemed a lower priority for the Trump national security team, Konyndyk and other public health experts said.
I am going to get a lot of ribbing about this from a lot of devoted Crap readers, but right now it's better and definitively safer to have #TDS than the Wuhan Coronavirus.