While I listened to my state’s governor pronounce his stay-at-home order on March 20, 2020 I felt like an unruly kid being punished. We were warned about social distancing. More people are sick. We have to restrict our freedom and close the remaining, non-essential businesses that are still open. If we don’t, death and disaster await. The health care system will collapse under the strain. Mr. Pritzker may be right. So might the other state and city officials who adopted similar measures. That doesn’t let them off the hook for not being prepared any more than it does the feds they criticize for not doing enough. One thing is clear: as taxpayers this is not our fault no matter how much we are threatened for violating mandatory social distancing guidelines.
Our federal and state governments were warned repeatedly that something like this COVID-19 pandemic was headed our way. Now we are at risk of running out of ventilators.
Not our fault, but we’re going to pay
Every American who files a tax return should be clear about where this is headed. This is not our fault, but taxpayers will pay a tremendous price because the nation is not prepared for a sudden pandemic We will pay the tab to halt America’s economic collapse. We will foot the public health care bill. When the ashes settle we will own every penny of indebtedness Congress spent the entire week bickering over.
While federal legislators do what they do best and the nation holds its breath in suspense, we should demand that every level of government be held accountable for the consequences of not being ready for COVID-19. If the warnings and threats pan out these consequences will be grave. They will bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “death and taxes.”
When the deaths are behind us the taxes will follow, especially if Donald Trump’s presidency is a casualty. Make no mistake. Democrats have every intention of manipulating this unfolding national tragedy to their political advantage. For proof, look no further than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When Americans needed their government to move swiftly, Pelosi used that urgency to bargain over spending favorites that get votes and don’t save lives. According to The Hill, that includes the party’s existential threat of climate change that pales to the existential threat of catastrophe in the here and now.
Not our fault: government is accountable for disaster readiness
Not enough masks. Dangerously low on ventilators. Beds in short supply. National Guard support. Makeshift military hospitals.
A public health crisis with no foreseeable end.
Why are we hearing this? Aren’t the federal and state governments ready to stave off a microbial disaster?
During last Monday’s daily 2:30 p.m. COVID-19 bad news update Governor Pritzker reported shortages and competition for ventilators in a supply queue that, surprisingly, includes other countries. When Illinois Director of Public Health Ngozi Ezike was asked how many patients were in intensive care and on ventilators she could not answer the question.1 When you are worried about a ventilator shortage and are pleading for help from the feds, that’s a problem. This is not to blame Dr. Ezike, but it is another reason for Governor Pritzker to lay off the harsh anti-Trump criticism when it’s obvious that all involved are creating our public health strategy one day at a time.
Chicago’s mayor closed the city’s lakefront on March 26. She threatened citations and arrest for people who violate the city’s stay at home order and congregate in public places. Congregating is what people do when they are faced with a crisis and offered no hope and no end in sight. Telling us to stay away from each other at a time when people instinctively draw together just rubs salt into our wounds no matter how necessary. As weeks drag into months pushback will come. It’s just a matter of when. As we get used to the shock, questions will be asked. Could this have been avoided? Why weren’t we more prepared?
Threats, threats, and more threats rain down on the American people each and every day while state governments choke off more and more of what makes our everyday lives not only livable, but possible. When President Trump tries to strike a positive note and suggests that we can get through this without massive death tolls and cataclysmic economic destruction he is attacked by naysayers who can’t and won’t offer the slightest positive spin in response and indulge worst-case scenarios that predict our destruction well before the outbreak runs out of steam.
Even a little false hope is a good thing when it is the only hope we have. At the moment we have nothing in front of us except death and ruin to face in the loneliest fashion imaginable. Families are told to stay apart. Spouses are advised to avoid sex. The unasked question is how many Americans will ultimately trade taking a chance with this illness so they can put an end to the worry, fear, and frustration.
That’s not how herd immunity is supposed to play out, but it’s much more in line with how Americans do things than the instructions we receive from various government agencies telling us to stay home and sit tight.
Disaster preparedness = wash your hands, try not to die
When the public most needs to hear that our federal, state, and municipal officials are prepared and on top of a horrific situation we hear the exact opposite from all levels of government.
Sadly, it’s practically impossible to separate anti-Trumpism from facts and reality. The president is repeatedly accused of not relying on science, which is a ridiculous holdover from the same climate change activism that Nancy Pelosi’s House tried to insert in its massive last-ditch Democratic bailout scheme.
As far as the public is concerned, political science doesn’t seem to be helping us much at the moment. All it tells us is that we have to stay six feet away for weeks, months, maybe even longer, that Trump’s hope for a cure is ridiculous, and that a vaccine is far, far away. My mother is 92 years old. She lives only 12 miles away but I haven’t seen her in weeks because it’s too dangerous. A little hope that we might see each other again while she is still on this earth would be helpful, but every hint at good news is stamped out as swiftly as it appears.
Did science or feel-good jargon direct our preparedness efforts? Federal agencies that specialize in science told us this was coming. How well did we listen?
Not our fault, but we were warned
A massive replay of 2008 that is likely only a preview of coming bailouts and stimulus efforts doesn’t answer the question of how much of this would be necessary if federal and state governments had done the jobs taxpayers expect and were prepared for the pandemic federal agencies told us years ago was on its way. We were threatened with microbes like MERS that have an even higher potential to kill en masse than this new threat. Why are the public officials we depend on talking about uncharted waters? This new bug is uncharted. The scenario is not.
There is enormous responsibility behind this crisis. It’s not as if the CDC never told us what to expect:
While we can’t predict exactly when or where the next epidemic or pandemic will begin, we know one is coming.2
That’s a pretty clear, pretty simple warning.
Several years ago the agency also told us that a biological catastrophe can gain global momentum in less than two days:
When a pathogen can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in 36 hours, the threat to our national security is greater than ever.3
Fifteen years ago we planned a National Pandemic Strategy for the flu:
In 2005, officials at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed a Pandemic Influenza Plan to coordinate and improve efforts to prevent, control, and respond to A(H5N1) viruses as well as other novel influenza A viruses of animal (e.g. from birds or pigs) with pandemic potential.4
Included in that first pandemic strategy document was a call to:
Ensure that our national stockpile and stockpiles based in states and communities are properly configured to respond to the diversity of medical requirements presented by a pandemic, including personal protective equipment, antibiotics and general supplies.5
Health & Human Services issued a stark, updated advisory in 2017 calling for us to be prepared for a “fast, effective public health response” to emerging viruses:
Since that time [2009 Pandemic Influenza Plan Update], our nation has experienced, and learned from, the 2009 Influenza A(H1N1) pandemic and the emergence of other influenza viruses of concern, such as H7N9 that emerged in 2013 in China and continues to cause periodic outbreaks. We have also responded to other serious disease outbreaks, including Ebola and Zika virus. Each instance has highlighted the need to be as prepared as we can be—because a fast, effective public health response demands it.6
Pandemic scares fired repeated warning shots at Washington. HHS recommended:
Accelerating vaccine and antiviral development, with a goal of having vaccine ready for administration within 3 months of the emergence of a pandemic strain, and approved broad spectrum antiviral therapies suitable for a range of influenza and other viral pathogens.7
As our newest pandemic loomed, we worried about China’s ability to strangle our drug supplies.
Our massive federal health agency also pointed out the need for:
Re-conceptualizing respiratory protection to limit transmission of disease from those who are infected to those who are well and protect caregivers and other responders by redesigning respiratory protective devices so they provide better protection and are easy and practical to use.8
That HHS report mentions almost every public health stumble we’re up against now.
There was opportunity. We were warned. Now we’re not ready.
Should we go back further? In the early 1990s bills were proposed to fight the AIDs scourge. 2009 brought us H.R. 2400 that warned we could be “left extremely vulnerable” by a virus like H1N1. Emerging viruses are a what and when scenario, not an if.
How many warnings does it take?
CDC: respiratory patients will die during a pandemic without ventilators
While we trudged through the partisan fighting of the Clinton years, Bush years, Obama years, and now the Trump first term, very dangerous viruses warned us that something like COVID-19 was coming. After the H1N1 scare the CDC issued this warning about pandemic flu and other public health emergencies:
During a severe influenza pandemic, many patients with respiratory failure who are able to receive mechanical ventilation (and all associated supportive critical care components) may survive, while patients with respiratory failure who do not receive mechanical ventilation are likely to die.9
Did we listen?
In a March 5, 2020 “Watchblog” post the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned:
Since 2002, there have been 3 severe outbreaks of respiratory illnesses caused by coronaviruses.10
One of those outbreaks, MERS, had a 34% lethality rate.11 Judging by what’s happening now, that 34% mortality would be the end of America.
We are threatened with a shortage of crucial supplies including critical ventilators. The Center for Public Integrity reports that the national stockpile is a woefully inadequate 16,600 units. Even personal protective equipment for health care workers is in short supply. Federal and state governments are not prepared for the strain on resources. Instead of assurance, taxpayers are assaulted with scare stories of the possible consequences of the lack of preparedness for something that, in hindsight, we will recognize as a very foreseeable tragedy and catastrophic failure to prepare adequate resources across all levels of government.
America is unprepared. Death and taxes are the consequence.
In the midst of pestilence and death Capitol Hill waged war over how much cake to throw to the public. Why $1,200 stimulus checks? Here’s a little quick math: $15.00/hr. x 80 hours = $1,200.00, a two-week paycheck at the Democratic Party’s “Fight for $15” minimum wage. Too bad for those who were making a lot more and are sitting at home waiting to get sick.
We might have been able to mitigate the damage of this joint microbial-economic disaster if the government had engaged in the same kind of perseverance that is suddenly demanded of taxpayers who are ransacking stores because they are panicked at the prospect of empty shelves and being quarantined in their homes without food or yes, toilet paper.
This should not be the excuse for a Washington political free for all, but desperation in the absence of preparedness and a very important election in jeopardy means that is what we are going to get. This is the time for productive, intelligent bipartisan discourse.
What better opportunity for House and Senate Democrats to resurrect their anger over a Trump administration Muslim ban?
Pandemic opportunity resurrects Muslim Ban accusations
Six days after the first pandemic death in the U.S. was reported House Members Judy Chu (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) banged their partisan drum over the administration’s efforts to protect the country from COVID-19:
President Trump’s Muslim ban is a betrayal of who we are as a nation. This racist, discriminatory policy violates the very foundational ideals of our nation, and we are less safe as a country when we try to pretend that we have something to fear from people based on their religion or ethnicity, said Murphy.12
That’s right. The Democratic Party used a pandemic to attack Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
The lawmakers cited “the reckless and unconscionable travel ban on African countries”13 including Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. Had they turned to science they would know that these nations are confronting the same virus we are fighting here in the U.S.
The good news for Democrats is that their party knows this kind of inflammatory partisanship is never off limits no matter how critical our situation.
Immigration activists leverage pandemic, too
Before news of her pre-pandemic stock sale broke, Senator Feinstein also joined a long list of congressional colleagues demanding answers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to a stunning list of 21 questions about how detained illegal immigrants and asylum seekers will be protected during this outbreak.14
Cook County, Illinois answered similar questions about its jail population by releasing some vulnerable, non-violent prisoners. That’s the solution the Congressional Hispanic Caucus recommends to keep detained immigrants and asylum seekers safe:
We urge you to prioritize the health and safety of those in your custody and employment by reducing detention numbers in a safe and swift manner, including by expeditiously placing children in homes and releasing non-priority detainees.15
If Democrats had allowed federal agencies to do their job we wouldn’t have so many foreign nationals allegedly at risk in detention, but elected officials are adept at leveraging political benefit from situations taxpayers pay to prevent.
When it comes to immigration, the CHC makes it clear that there is no shame. When Trump tried to manage the influx of possible infected individuals at our borders the caucus responded with this:
It appears the Trump Administration is taking advantage of a national historic pandemic to accomplish anti-immigrant objectives.16
Instead of worrying about immigrants-to-be who haven’t even arrived yet, perhaps caucus members should consider how they participated in Congress’s plans to make sure a pandemic doesn’t shut down the country.
What happened to those taxes, anyway?
Low income and other vulnerable Americans are said to be at special risk during this outbreak. That’s one of the reasons Medicaid will be expanded by H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act juggernaut and whatever comes next.
A March 2, 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the payment integrity of our federal agencies found that in fiscal year 2019 $175 billion was doled out improperly, a $24 billion increase from the previous year.17 What program topped the list? Medicaid. Our health care safety net‘s bad payments totaled $57.4 billion.18
Improper payments and other wastes of taxpayer dollars are so pervasive that the billions have become little more than an acceptable cost of how the Federal Government does business. Taxpayers, meanwhile, are on the hook for expanded spending to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak that includes the same programs that allow billions to slip through federal agencies’ fingers.
$1,200 let them eat cake checks aren’t going to fix the damage from a shutdown economy and the crushing effects of confining Americans in their homes.
Public officials warn this could go on for months. With the exception of President Trump they offer no hope. If we can only salvage one thing from this it’s that we can never be left in this situation again.
Oh, one more thing …
Economic tragedy should not have a payoff
Sitting back and watching the battle between the White House, state governors, big city mayors, and the various factions in our Congress one glaring fact stands out: none of the players is prepared for a pandemic even close to this magnitude. This is an across-the-board failure of government. As with most government failures, taxpayers will suffer fallout that will give new meaning to death and taxes. Those checks Congress just authorized have a price. So does every other kind of economic stimulus and public health spending that will be rolled out over the coming weeks and months to save our physical and financial lives.
That’s before we get to what state and city governments will need, want, and demand.
This is a double-edged sword for Americans. We want the value of our investments back, we want to keep our jobs and small businesses, and most of us don’t want to die, but we aren’t going to be happy with the tab for returning us to where we started at the end of 2019, either.
This is not our fault. We did our part. We paid our taxes. We trusted our elected officials and agency heads. Now it’s going to be our problem and possibly our downfall for a very long time.
1. “March 23, 2020 COVID-19 Press Update.” Illinois Department of Public Health. http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/coronavirus/media-publications/daily-press-briefings, retrieved March 27, 2020.
2. “Why It Matters: The Pandemic Threat.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Field Updates. Winter 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/healthprotection/fieldupdates/winter-2017/why-it-matters.html, retrieved March 23, 2020.
4. “National Pandemic Strategy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/national-strategy/index.html, retrieved March 26, 2020.
5. “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” Homeland Security Council. November 2005. p. 5. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/pandemic-influenza-strategy-2005.pdf, retrieved March 26, 2020.
6. “Pandemic Influenza Plan. 2017 Update.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. p. 3. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/pan-flu-report-2017v2.pdf.
7. Ibid., p. 4.
9. Ethical Considerations for Decision Making Regarding Allocation of Mechanical Ventilators during a Severe Influenza Pandemic or Other Public Health Emergency.” Ventilator Document Workgroup, Ethics Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee to the Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” July 1, 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/od/science/integrity/phethics/docs/Vent_Document_Final_Version.pdf, retrieved March 22, 2020.
10. “How Prepared Are We for a Pandemic?” Watchblog. U.S. Government Accountability Office. March 5, 2020. https://blog.gao.gov/2020/03/05/how-prepared-are-we-for-a-pandemic/, retrieved March 22, 2020.
12. “Chu, Murphy, Feinstein, and Neguse Lead Effort to Block President Trump’s Expanded Muslim Ban.” Judy Chu. March 6, 2020. https://chu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chu-murphy-feinstein-and-neguse-lead-effort-block-president-trump-s, retrieved March 22, 2020.
14. “Feinstein, Harris, Colleagues Seek Answers on Coronavirus Preparedness in Immigration Detention Facilities.” Dianne Feinstein. March 18, 2020. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=0892877A-4FB2-4BFA-BE65-AE449AF27C9B, March 22, 2020.
15. “CHC Leaders Call on the Trump Administration to Prioritize the Health and Safety of Adult and Children Detainees and Employees During Coronavirus Crisis.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus. March 13, 2020. https://chc.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chc-leaders-call-on-the-trump-administration-to-prioritize-the-health, retrieved March 22, 2020.
16. “Congressional Hispanic Caucus Seeks Answers on Trump’s New Border Restrictions Turning Away Asylum Seekers and Some Unaccompanied Migrant Children.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus. March 27, 2020. https://chc.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressional-hispanic-caucus-seeks-answers-on-trump-s-new-border, retrieved March 27, 2020.
17. “PAYMENT INTEGRITY. Federal Agencies’ Estimates of FY 2019 Improper Payments.” United States Government Accountability Office. March 2020. https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/705016.pdf, retrieved March 22, 2020. p. 7.
*Graphic: “Milestone Investigations.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/eis/about/history.html on March 28, 2020.
Author’s note: content updated and CDC timeline graphic added after original publish date of March 27, 2020.