President Barack Obama weathered three pandemics in his eight years in office: the swine flu, Ebola and Zika. This gives us enough data to not merely speculate on the actions he might take against COVID-19, but to make relatively accurate predictions of what he would do in comparison with President Donald Trump.
The first thing we know is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offices in China would be fully staffed. Trump cut a crucial CDC presence in China from 47 to 14 staffers over the past two years. He also closed the offices of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Science Foundation. Had these offices been fully staffed with Americans and Chinese specialists, we might have been alerted to the possible pandemic in late December 2019 rather than a month later.
What steps would have been taken in early January 2020? The swine flu (H1Nl) was first detected in a California school on April 15, 2009. One week later, April 22, 2009, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center. That same day CDC held the first of what would be daily press briefings. So, a fully staffed CDC would have alerted the American people and would have begun full-force operations in early January rather than lukewarm actions mid-March under Trump.
An Obama CDC would have been headed by the likes of Tom Frieden, director of the CDC under Obama. Frieden was previously an epidemic intelligence officer with CDC, worked for 10 years at the World Health Organization (WHO), and was New York City Department of Health Commissioner from 2002-2009. Dr. Robert Redfield, the current CDC director, has no epidemiological experience whatever.
April 26, 2009, 11 days after the confirmation of the first case of swine flu, CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile began releasing 25% of its PPE supplies. It strongly recommended that schools that had at least one case of swine flu close for two weeks. Over 700 schools across the country did just that. Canada, Mexico and other countries where cases emerged, followed suit.
If we lacked personal protective equip-ment (PPE), Obama would swiftly ensure we acquired more. Not only did Trump fail to do this, he allowed 17.8 tons of PPE to be sent to China by private aid organizations as late as Feb. 4,2020, on planes furnished by the State Department. USAID provided Thailand with nearly 40,000 pieces of PPE March 9,2020. A hold was not put on these shipments until April 1. The U.S. has been scramb-ling to this day to produce enough PPE. So, around mid-January 2020, President Obama would have been swinging into action, checking stockpiles, releasing what we had and ordering more if necessary. Obama’s CDC, under Frieden’s direction, would be working on a reliable COVID test rather than the Redfield test, which was a disaster that delayed our response even more.
The National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health and Security and Biodefense (GHSB) was set up by President Obama in the wake of the Ebola pandemic. It would have coordinated efforts of the fully staffed CDC, FEMA, OSHA in early February if not late January. Trump, instead, has no (GHSB), since he had disbanded it in 2018. With so many organizations including so many experts in pandemics operating in early February 2020 rather than mid-May, preventive focus on hot spots like sporting events, bars, restaurants and schools would have included nursing homes and prisons. If Obama’s response to the Ebola pandemic is any indication, his teams would have already searched throughout the immense U.S. government for sources of money, expertise and manpower.
A Columbia University study recently estimated that at least 36,000 lives would have been saves had social distancing been applied one week earlier. If we had reacted two weeks earlier, 54,000 lives would have been saved. How many would have been saved if we had started 6 to 8 weeks earlier?
Hillary Clinton would have reacted much the same as Obama were she the president now. She spent four years in his administration and eight years in the White House itself. So, if either of them were president, a lot more voters would be casting votes in the November elections.
(Sunbury Daily Item, May 26, 2020)