By the early 21st century, America’s Centers for Disease Control had become the world’s leader in the study and control of pandemics. It was a bipartisan success story, an example of what government can accomplish when organized for the common good.
Thanks to the remarkable capabilities of the CDC and other elements of the US health research infrastructure, pandemics that swept the world in recent decades have had so little impact on the US that we scarcely noticed their existence. Apart from Ebola, which due to its horrifying symptoms and African origins touched a special nerve in the US, most Americans can’t name any of the world’s most recent pandemic outbreaks.
Nevertheless, the Religious Right and its eventual Republican allies have labored for years to weaken the CDC and its related institutions. Since the 90’s they have chipped away at the power and effectiveness of our public health infrastructure in every way possible. Across the Tea Party era they finally gained a chance to undermine the budgets of what was otherwise an untouchable, bipartisan agency. Adjusted for inflation, the budget for the NIH, parent of the CDC, still hasn’t recovered from the drastic cuts of the Tea Party era, and the Trump Administration continues to threaten more cuts, as recently as last month.
Trump’s victory gave Republicans a golden opening to cripple America’s science and health institutions, which they pursued with abandon. Trump’s first CDC Director was a grifter from Georgia, who built a career selling quack anti-aging cures. She was fired after her skeevy tobacco stock trading scheme was uncovered. His next, and current head of the CDC is a religious nut who responded to the AIDS crisis with a screed against fact-based sex education.
Our government’s failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, as it had previously contained a series of similar outbreaks, was decades in the making. A timeline of this pandemic disaster starts in the 80’s, as religious activists responsible for the South’s great party-switch to the GOP took aim at every form of science and empirical research. It ends with all of us stuck in our homes, if we’re lucky enough not to be stuck in an ICU bed, attached to a ventilator, or dead.
Ignorance kills. Ignorance mobilized through politics is a weapon of mass destruction. We will learn from this timeline, or die by it.
1987 The CDC, under the Reagan Administration, begins an aggressive sex education campaign in an effort to limit AIDS transmission. The backlash from the religious right is swift and angry. Robert Redfield, who would go on to lead the CDC in the Trump Administration, responded to the AIDS crisis by publishing a bizarre abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, blaming the pandemic on moral decline and the rise of single-parent families.
1992 A CDC study showed that firearm deaths were a major cause of mortality among teens. It also noted that gun deaths were a far more serious problem in the South.
1993 The CDC publishes a report recommending condom use for the prevention of AIDS.
1996 Republicans pass the Dickey Amendment which muzzles CDC research into the impact of guns on public health.
February 1999 Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly publishes an anti-vaxx screed against the CDC in her monthly newsletter, warning that that the CDC’s vaccine program is both medically dangerous and a step toward tyranny. A headline in the newsletter screams, “Vaccines: the Key to Federal Control.” Her piece decries the unaccountable power granted to the “vaccine police” at the CDC. “The more we ask questions, the more we find that the subject of vaccines is not all based on science.”
November 2005 An HHS report prepared in response to the SARS outbreak identifies a critical lack of ventilators as a high-priority national issue. Listed as priority #1 in an healthcare response to a future pandemic:
“Distribute stockpiled ventilators and other medical material needed to treat and care for infected individuals to health departments and federal agencies that provide direct patient care.” p. 25
That report inspired a government program, called Project Aura, that would seek to build a stockpile of low-cost, portable ventilators. It also warns that a pandemic could require, “839,000 to 9,625,000 hospitalizations, 18–42 million outpatient visits, and 20–47 million additional illnesses.”
2007 Tom Coburn compiles a poorly-sourced 100-page screed against the CDC, accusing it of fraud. His misleading expose uncovered such waste as TV’s that were too big for his taste and “a sloping ‘greenscape’ with a stream running over and around artificial rocks where rainwater is collected and sent down the stream to a pond and then pumped back up to the top of the slope and sent down again.”
Why go after the CDC? The answer starts on page 74, where he criticizes continuing CDC efforts to publicize the health dangers of firearms. When your political agenda flies in the face of reality, scientists are your enemy.
Same year, Republicans manage to force the CDC to include abstinence-only speakers in its sexually-transmitted disease programs, in defiance of scientific evidence.
2008 HHS solicits proposals from companies for the production of low-cost ventilators to be added to a national stockpile, part of Project Aura. Newport Medical Instruments wins the bid.
2010 Newport Medical Instruments receives its first $6.1m payment from the federal government to produce ventilators for the national stockpile. First prototype was delivered a few months later. In 2011 the company began ramping up for FDA approval.
May 2011 – Rand Paul proposes to cut the CDC budget by almost a third, explaining:
“The center is often mentioned in media reports highlighting their lavish accommodations. For example, in 2005, the CDC built a conference center for $106 million, complete with large-screen plasma TVs. They also spent tens of millions of dollars on state-of-the-art anti-gravity seating for employees, as well as luxury furniture. Taxpayers can no longer afford the luxury working atmosphere of the CDC.”
More modest cuts were passed by the new Tea Party Congress and forced on the White House.
Sept 2011 Presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann claims that vaccinations cause “mental retardation.”
May 2012 Newport Medical Instruments is acquired by Covidien. The next month the company filed its FDA clearance, but requested more federal money and a higher price for the devices. The government complies.
From The New York Times:
“Government officials and executives at rival ventilator companies said they suspected that Covidien had acquired Newport to prevent it from building a cheaper product that would undermine Covidien’s profits from its existing ventilator business.”
March 28, 2014 Trump’s most prominent anti-vaxxer tweet.
June 2014 Medical device maker, Covidian asks to terminate its government contract to mass-produce affordable ventilators. A six-year federal project to address ventilator shortages was thrown back to square one.
October 2014 Project Aura starts over, this time awarding the respirator contract to Respironics, a division of Philips.
A National Review post outlines the Republican case against the CDC and NIH in the midst of the Ebola outbreak, after Tea Party Republicans flatlined the agencies’ budgets in 2011. It’s a pitch-perfect explanation of the logic behind the Trump Administration’s campaign to wreck the agencies a few years later.
Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers PAC behind the Tea Party, publishes a blog post criticizing the waste and ineffectiveness of the hated CDC.
July 2015 HHS launches another effort to produce more ventilators, this time with a Pennsylvania subsidiary of Philips. Their aim was to produce low-cost, portable ventilators which would be added to a national stockpile at a price less than $4,000 each. To date, not one of the Trilogy Evo Universal devices is in the stockpile. Instead, the devices, which were produced using public investment money and which received FDA approval last year, have been sold overseas for a higher price.
December 2016 NSC completes its national “pandemic playbook,” including the established test, trace and treat methodology. The Trump Administration would ignore it.
May 2017 Trump pushes massive cuts to scientific research, medical research, disease prevention programs. The National Cancer Institute would be hit with a $1 billion cut compared to its 2017 budget. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would see a $575 million cut, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would see a reduction of $838 million. The administration would cut the overall National Institutes of Health budget from $31.8 billion to $26 billion.
The National Science Foundation, which dispenses grants to a variety of scientific research endeavors, would be trimmed $776 million, an 11 percent cut. NSF had not been mentioned in the administration’s earlier budget outline, the so-called “skinny budget,” which was released in March. Congress would reject these cuts, but the budget reflects the Administration’s priorities, which they would achieve through other means.
May 19, 2017 After a wider federal hiring freeze was allowed to expire in April, it was reimposed on the Centers for Disease Control and NIH, leaving nearly 700 positions unfilled at the CDC alone.
“Several [unfilled] positions are in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, which regulates some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria and viruses and manages the nation’s stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures.”
May 8, 2018 After failing to get the deeper cuts to the CDC and NIH budgets he’d requested, Trump uses rescission to eliminate the Complex Crisis Fund, a small budget maintained by the State Department which was key to the 2014 Ebola response.
May 2018 Leaders of the White House pandemic response team are fired and not replaced.
From The Washington Post at the time: “Collectively, warns Jeremy Konyndyk, who led foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Obama administration, “What this all adds up to is a potentially really concerning rollback of progress on U.S. health security preparedness.”
“It seems to actively unlearn the lessons we learned through very hard experience over the last 15 years,” said Konyndyk, now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “These moves make us materially less safe. It’s inexplicable.”
July 2019 Trilogy Evo Universal respirators, produced by Philips with federal investment for the purpose of replenishing a national stockpile of respirators, wins FDA approval for sale. Not one of the devices have yet been contributed to the national stockpile, but many have been sold overseas for a huge markup.
September 2019 White House Council of Economic Advisors warns of the devastating potential impact of a flu-like pandemic. There is no evidence that their warnings were even read, much less taken seriously.
HHS ordered 10,000 of the Trilogy Evo Universal ventilators from Respironics for the Strategic National Stockpile at a cost of $3,280 each, due in the summer of 2020. They have not been delivered, but are being sold internationally for as much as $17,000 each.
January 3, 2020 In a CDC briefing with their Chinese colleagues, the Administration gets its notice of a pandemic outbreak.
January 9, 2020 Trump hosts a campaign rally in Ohio.
January 11, 2020 German lab ships the first globally available COVID-19 test.
January 14, 2020 Trump hosts a campaign rally in Wisconsin.
January 17, 2020 First public CDC briefing on the virus. Screening put in place for travelers, but only those coming from Wuhan.
January 18, 2020 Alex Azar finally gets an audience with Trump to warn him of COVID-19 threat. The President interrupted him to ask when sales of flavored vaping products would resume.
January 19, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.
January 20, 2020 First COVID-19 cases in the US and S Korea.
January 22, 2020 Trump explains in public remarks that, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
January 24, 2020 Trump tweet praising Chinese President Xi
On the same day, a classified Senate briefing is delivered by Administration officials for 14 Senators, on 2 committees. Two of them, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, begin selling stocks on that classified information while telling the public that all is well.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 2/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 2/0
January 27, 2020 South Korea’s equivalent of the CDC organizes a meeting with pharmaceutical companies to coordinate work on a test regimen.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 5/0
January 28, 2020 Trump hosts campaign rally in New Jersey.
HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, publicly references the established pandemic playbook which the admin then failed to follow:
“The playbook for responding to an infectious disease outbreak is relatively simple: You identify cases, isolate the people, diagnose them, and treat them.”
He also stated that he was briefing the President daily.
Senator Schumer asks the HHS to issue an emergency declaration, which would have freed up $85 million for preparations. Azar complies three days later
January 29, 2020 President announces formation of task force. Places Pence in charge.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 5/0
January 30, 2020 Trump tells the public, “We think we have it very well under control.“
Trump holds campaign rally in Iowa.
January 31, 2020 Travel from China suspended, but only for foreign nationals. To this date (4/4), international flights continue, with only limited restrictions for foreign nationals.
Azar invokes Public Health Emergency, requiring all COVID-19 tests be cleared by the FDA. This measure is meant to prevent the emergence of fraudulent or exploitative testing schemes. However, when implemented without any alternative plan, it creates a bottleneck in which only the CDC’s labs are authorized to conduct tests. Inexplicably, the agency under Redfield’s direction publishes stringent limits on who would be permitted to receive a test.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 11/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 7/0
February 1, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.
February 2, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.
Trump falsely claims to have “shut down” travel from China with a Jan. 31 order. In fact, travel continued, with limited restrictions only applied to non-citizens. More than 400,000 people would travel to the US from China in the weeks to follow, and to date (4/4) no travel ban has been implemented.
Later than night Trump appears on Hannity, explaining:
“Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”
February 3, 2020 South Korea approves its first COVID-19 test for public use.
February 4, 2020 FDA’s first published Emergency Use Approval on COVID-19 further restricts testing, severely limiting testing capability and constraining providers only to the single available (flawed) CDC test.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 178
Daily Tests Conducted US: 93
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 16/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 11/0
February 5, 2020 Passengers and crew of the cruise ship, Diamond Princess, including more than 400 Americans, are quarantined in harbor at Yokohama, Japan after a passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19. 20% of the passengers would test positive. Half were asymptomatic. Nine passengers would eventually die.
February 10, 2020 Trump brags “We’re in great shape…we only have 11 cases and they’re all getting better,” and “it will go away in April.” Regarding China and COVID, “And I think they’re doing a good job on that, on the virus. I had a long talk with President Xi — for the people in this room — two nights ago, and he feels very confident.”
A former CDC official working at the Gates Foundation reaches out to the CDC seeking approval for local researchers with the Gates-funded Seattle Flu Study to perform tests. The CDC bars them from performing tests.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 436
Daily Tests Conducted US: 38
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 27/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 11/0
February 12, 2020 Originally scheduled date for the President’s annual intelligence briefing on national security threats. The briefing was cancelled and not rescheduled.
From Time: The final draft of the report remains classified but the two officials who have read it say it contains warnings similar to those in the last installment, which was published on January 29, 2019. The 2019 report warns on page 29 that, “The United States will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,445
Daily Tests Conducted US: 58
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 56/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 12/0
February 15, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.
February 18, 2020 Tomas Philipson, acting chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers explains, “I don’t think corona is as big a threat as people make it out to be.”
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,094
Daily Tests Conducted US: 42
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 31/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 13/0
February 19, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Arizona.
February 20, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Colorado.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,750
Daily Tests Conducted US: 59
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 111/1
Known Cases/Deaths US: 15/0
February 21, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Nevada.
February 24, 2020 Dow Jones drops 3.5%.
February 25, 2020 The Dow opens higher, recovering most of its Monday losses. Then, CDC career official, Nancy Messonnier breaks with the Administration, delivering a stark warning that community spread in the US was inevitable. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow scrambles to contradict the CDC, explaining “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” but a massive selloff begins. The Dow Jones drops another 3% from Monday’s collapse, and the stock market rout begins.
Up to this date, almost all official testing was forced to go through the CDC, creating an increasingly challenging bottleneck. Only 12 labs had been granted the right to perform tests. Seattle researcher, Dr Helen Chu, defies a federal testing ban to perform COVID testing on Seattle residents. She identifies cases of local transmission. On a call with the FDA and CDC to report her findings they order her to cease and desist. After reviewing old samples, they find local transmissions going back to at least Feb 20.
A Trump campaign spokesman on Fox News claims, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”
February 26, 2020 The CDC and FDA relent under pressure and allow the Seattle lab to perform tests.
Trump explains at a press conference “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
S Korea opens its first drive-through testing centers, processing hundreds of test a day, free of charge. Results are texted to the patient the next day.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 9,411
Daily Tests Conducted US: 109
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 977/12
Known Cases/Deaths US: 60/0
February 27, 2020 “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” Trump explains at a White House meeting with African American leaders.
February 28, 2020 The FDA agrees to loosen rules, allowing research labs to develop and perform tests.
Rush Limbaugh explains to his dwindling audience that coronavirus is just the common cold, and “I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump.” and “It’s probably is a ChiCom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized.” White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, dismisses concerns over coronavirus in a speech to CPAC, explaining “they think this will bring down the president; that’s what this is all about.” At least one attendee would test positive for the virus, which he was carrying at the conference.
That night, Trump held a campaign rally in South Carolina. He repeated the same line Limbaugh used, claiming that the coronavirus is the Democrats’ “new hoax.”
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 12,950
Daily Tests Conducted US: 266
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 2,337/16
Known Cases/Deaths US: 63/0
February 29, 2020 “Everything is really under control,” Trump claimed in a speech at the CPAC conference outside Washington, D.C.
March 2, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in North Carolina.
A funeral in Albany, GA would become a “super-spreader event,” the first large-scale rural outbreak of COVID-19.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 12,606
Daily Tests Conducted US: 656
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4,335/
Known Cases/Deaths US: 100/6
March 3, 2020 Tweet from President dismissing the risk of COVID-19.
CDC lifts its previous restrictions limiting who could receive a test. It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re so far behind the demand for tests at this point that this change has little impact. What had been a bottleneck caused by testing rules becomes a bottleneck driven by chaos and lack of preparation. By the end of March there would be a backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested specimens, with test results sometimes taking more than a week. The delay is a result of unqualified and unprepared private, for-profit labs accepting tests on a scale that they cannot process. By March 25, Quest Diagnostics alone (NYSE: DGX) maintained a backlog of 160,000 untested samples, almost half of the total samples it had accepted.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 16,260
Daily Tests Conducted US: 867
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 5,186/32
Known Cases/Deaths US: 124/9
March 6, 2020 Trump makes a lengthy appearance at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, combining with his bootlicking, incompetent lackeys to spin up a shit tornado of disinformation, confusion and black comedy. It’s difficult to capture the depth of the incompetence displayed at this press conference in a summary, so please forgive the length of this verbatim recitation.
Trump explained, contrary to all evidence that, “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” He continued, “the testing has been amazing, actually. What they’ve been able to produce in such a short period of time. You had mentioned 4 million tests before — 4 million?
Alex Azar answers: “Up to 4 million tests available in the United States by the end of next week.” That was a simple lie.
Robert Redfield then lied about the extent of the threat, “I would say that — again, what I said before that — that, at the present time, the general risk to the American public remains low.”
A reporter asked, “You could have just used The WHO’s test. Why did you choose to start from scratch when it would be a longer process?”
Lots of words, no answer
Trump digs in a little deeper, claiming, “Just so you understand it’s all performing perfectly”
Redfield piles on, “But it’s not as if we have multiple, multiple — hundreds and hundreds of clusters around the United States.” In fact, we already did, with confirmed cases stretching from coast to coast. He was lying.
Alex Azar tried to “unskew” the mortality rate, claiming it was is less than 1%.
Trump, jumps again to pimp Fox News, “As of the time I left the plane with you, we had 240 cases. That’s at least what was on a very fine network known as Fox News. And you love it. But that’s what I happened to be watching. And how was the show last night? Did it get good ratings, by the way?”
Trump, again in a quote, “I didn’t know people died from the flu.” He then claims that the mortality rate might be as low as .1%.
About his campaign rallies a reporter asked, “Isn’t it a risk if there’s that many people close together.” Trump answers that, “It doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t bother them at all.”
Regarding a quarantined cruise ship, Trump admits he doesn’t want the passengers brought to shore because he thinks it will influence the published statistics, “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship…If they take them off all of a sudden your 240 is obviously going to be a much higher number.”
Then, in the quote that should be placed on his tombstone, Trump reminds everyone that he is the smartest guy in every room. “I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.”
Redfield then summarizes the catastrophic and deadly error he made in his response to this crisis, “I mean, we’re not blind where this virus is right now in the United States. And we need to focus our resources right now where we know this virus is circulating substantially in the community, like certain parts of California, like certain parts of Seattle. That’s where we need to put our focus.” He was lethally wrong.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 18,199
Daily Tests Conducted US: 1,922
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 6,593/43
Known Cases/Deaths US: 319/15
March 7, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.
“No, I’m not concerned at all. No, we’ve done a great job with it,” Trump said, when asked by reporters if he was concerned about the arrival of the coronavirus in the Washington, D.C., area.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,499
Daily Tests Conducted US: 1,639
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,041/48
Known Cases/Deaths US: 435/19
March 8, 2020 A Pentecostal church in Arkansas launches another rural COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in dozens of infections and several deaths so far.
March 9, 2020 Fox News is in full denial mode, downplaying the disease, entertaining conspiracy theories, and telling their audience to disregard warnings. Host, Trish Regan, leads off her show with an infographic that reads, “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.” She claimed that “this is just another attempt to impeach the President.”
March 10, 2020 OMB acting Director Russ Vought appears before Congress to defend Trump’s proposal to cut another 15% from the CDC’s budget, including another $35m slashed from the Infectious Disease Rapid Response.
Trump dismisses concerns at a meeting with GOP Senators, “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,526
Daily Tests Conducted US: 3,527
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,513/60
Known Cases/Deaths US: 937/30
March 11, 2020 A handful of drive-through testing centers open in the US. They can process a few dozen patients a day.
March 13, 2020 Regarding the crisis, Trump insists, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
Fox News continues to play down the crisis. A Fox morning host urged people to get out and travel, “it’s actually the safest time to fly.“
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,649
Daily Tests Conducted US: 6,663
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,979/67
Known Cases/Deaths US: 2,183/48
March 15, 2020 The CDC issues its first official guidance urging the closing of most public places, including restaurants and requesting that gatherings larger than 10 people be postponed.
Republicans all over the country mock the CDC guidance by posting pictures of themselves defying the request. Oklahoma Gov. Stitt shares a picture of his family in a crowded restaurant. Devin Nunes goes on Fox News urging people to “go to your local pub.” Former Milwaukee Sheriff and RNC headliner David Clarke warned that the CDC’s advice was a plot to extend “government control” and followers should “take to the streets.”
March 16, 2020 The Dow Jones drops almost 13%, largest single-day decline in its history.
The Supreme Court delayed arguments in the Trump tax return cases, which were set to be heard on March 31. No new date has been set. There was no need for the Court to hear the case at all. Thanks to their decision, we are unlikely to see those returns before the election, which means we are unlikely now to ever see them at all.
San Francisco issues a stay at home order for residents.
March 18, 2020 GM’s CEO Mary Barr notifies the White House of plans to mass-produce ventilators. They are partnering with medical device manufacturer, Ventec, to increase their production 100-times by the middle of April. Thus begins one of the strangest sub-stories from the epidemic.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 8,931
Daily Tests Conducted US: 20,629
Cases/Deaths S Korea: 8,431/84
Cases/Deaths US: 1896/150
March 19, 2020 Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson explains that it’s a mistake to shut down the economy just because “no more than 3.4%” of the population might die.
March 20, 2020 New York Presbyterian alone is going through 40,000 N95 masks a day. The downstate region is using roughly 3 million masks a week.
California Governor Gavin Newsom issues a statewide stay at home order.
March 22, 2020 Trump tweets that GM and Tesla are “being given the go ahead to make ventilators.”
March 23, 2020 GM designates a Kokomo, IN plant as the site for producing ventilators. This upsets Trump, who needs to fulfill a campaign promise in Ohio.
Texas’ Republican Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick makes a public appeal to let America’s elderly and vulnerable populations fend for themselves in order to keep the economy healthy.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 6,256
Daily Tests Conducted US: 54,131
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 8,961/111
Known Cases/Deaths US: 44,183/555
March 25, 2020 Without explanation, the White House cancels the announcement of the GM/Ventec project and says that there will be no contract. GM agrees to proceed anyway.
Jared Kushner insists that New York Governor Cuomo was being unreasonable in claiming to need tens of thousands of ventilators. “I have all this data about ICU capacity. I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.”
The Canadian Prime Minister announces availability of a US$1400/benefit available to anyone who has lost income due to COVID-19. Benefits are funded for up to four months, and the first payments should begin by April 10.
March 26, 2020 Trump cancels the deal with GM to produce ventilators. The Administration explained that it was concerned about the $1bn price tag, roughly $12K each, which is about the going market value. Turns out, that’s not the real reason.
In his White House briefing the President complains that there aren’t enough ventilators because of Obama’s negligence, “The ventilators, obviously they take a little longer to make, but we have a lot of companies making them and we’re going to be in great shape. We took over an empty shelf.
Later the same day, Trump claims on the Hannity show that New York doesn’t need the ventilators that Gov. Cuomo is requesting. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Also “A lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need.”
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 7,046
Daily Tests Conducted US: 97,806
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,241/131
Known Cases/Deaths US: 85,356/1,295
March 27, 2020 President signs $2 trillion stimulus bill. Democrats fought to include a provision banning Trump’s businesses from receiving bail-out funds. In a signing statement, Trump asserted the power to ban the Inspector General from disclosing information about payments made under the bill, freeing him to pay himself from public funds without oversight.
Trump explains that he hasn’t helped governors who haven’t been sufficiently “appreciative” toward him. To quote:
“When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA, it’s not right…I say, ‘Mike [Pence], don’t call the governor of Washington; you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.’ You know what I say: ‘If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.’”
Trump posts tweet insulting GM CEO and insisting that GM should produce the ventilators at the shuttered Lordstown plant they no longer own. Ventec and GM go ahead with announcement.
Trump insinuates, without any evidence, that GM was trying to gouge the government on prices. Asked for an explanation, he goes on an incoherent rant, “I was extremely unhappy with Lordstown, Ohio. They left Lordstown in the middle of an auto boom…Frankly, I think that would be a good place to build the ventilators”
This situation is worthy of a bit more explanation.
Trump went to Youngstown in July 2017 and promised the crowd that he’d get the Lordstown GM plant reopened. “They’re all coming back. They’re all coming back. They’re coming back. Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.” Like the Sioux Ghost-Dancers, worshiping Trump was supposed to bring back the dead. That didn’t happen. Across three years of a booming economy, and before the crash last month, manufacturing employment was up less than 1%. GM never reopened Lordstown.
This has consistently bothered Trump, who has lashed out at GM’s CEO personally
Instead of ramping up production, GM dumped the Lordstown plant in 2019 on a struggling EV startup, called Workhorse for a piddling $20m. Workhorse is strapped for cash, so GM financed the entire purchase for them. Workhorse needs to raise another $300m to start operations. In a facility that once employed 12,000 people, Workhorse hopes to maybe eventually to employee 400, assuming they are able to land a bunch of government contracts, because no one else wants what they are talking about making.
So basically, Trump sabotaged a promising effort to build ventilators because GM failed to help him with a project to win a key state.
USNS Mercy arrives in Los Angeles to provide hospital services.
March 28, 2020 Gun lobbyists persuade the White House to define gun shops as “essential” businesses allowed to remain open.
Trump issues a vague threat of a travel ban on the NYC area, sparking panic. He retracts the statement a few hours later.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 10,964
Daily Tests Conducted US: 109,071
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,478/144
Known Cases/Deaths US: 122,653/2,220
March 29, 2020 Respironics, the Philips subsidiary that contracted to provide respirators to the national stockpile back in 2019 still hadn’t delivered them.
The stockpile is “still awaiting delivery of the Trilogy Evo,” a Health and Human Services spokeswoman said. “We do not currently have any in inventory, though we are expecting them soon.”
Instead of accelerating their delivery timeline, Respironics is negotiating with Jared Kushner to deliver a much more expensive model to hospitals.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 6,216
Daily Tests Conducted US: 95,647
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,583/152
Known Cases/Deaths US: 143,491/2,583
March 30, 2020 USNS Comfort arrives in New York City to provide hospital services.
March 31, 2020 Trump finally acknowledges that the death toll might be significant, floating 200,000 dead as a possible best case.
April 2, 2020 Without explanation, Jared Kushner, whose application for a security clearance was denied, delivers the White House press conference on COVID-19. He claimed that NYC only received a relief supply of masks after Trump received a call from “friends.” Kushner claims he then arranged a shipment.
Weekly jobless claims soared to a staggering 6.6m. In two weeks the economy has lost more than 10m jobs.
Defense Department strips Capt. Brett Crozier, commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt of his post. Crozier had sent a letter to his superiors pleading for assistance for his crew. That letter was leaked to the press. More than a hundred sailors on board have tested positive for COVID-19.
The President of the United States is leaning on a foreign bank, Deutsche Bank, and the government of Palm Beach County Florida, to delay his debt obligations.
Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 16,585
Daily Tests Conducted US: 117,698
Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 10,062/174
Known Cases/Deaths US: 244,877/6,070
Resources for raw data:
https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing tests performed by country