When it comes to “intelligence,” the Oval Office and the eponymous community stand at antipodes:
President’s intelligence briefing book repeatedly cited virus threat — U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat …
Surprised? Me neither.
Today, at some point, by some counts using some different authorities, the US death count from COVID-19 will surpass the US death count in the 1964-1975 Vietnam War.
It has already surpassed one million cases, far and away the highest infection rate in the world. And still we die at a rate of two thousand a day.
So, a slight jeremiad:
How is it that the most medically and technologically advanced nation in the world, who all but invented modern public health medicine in the Twentieth Century got taken to the cleaners, made to look idiotic and still cannot come up with a coherent strategy for dealing with our silent predator, a virus.
Consider that we began with a fractured narrative, couldn’t even agree on a name for the epidemic — and the malevolent ongoing attempt to BLAME the virus, the ACT OF GOD (as any insurance policy will surely inform you of in the small print) as China’s fault.
Today, I skimmed Fox News Channel (for thirty seconds) in passing from CNN to MSNBC (has anyone noticed that the dominant demographic for MSNBC in certain of the wee hours of the morning consists entirely of balding women?) and the WHITE HOUSE was (well, trade rep Peter Navarro) accusing China of SEEDING the virus into the world, while buying up all the world’s PPE supplies, and are now making a killing and killing us at the selfsame time.
This was aired, not as laughable paranoia, but as serious news. I don’t know what you people watching this swill are drinking but it CAN’T be strong enough.
This should have been stipulated at the very start: a novel virus is an existential threat to our SPECIES. There is no blame. Only a race to a cure, pallative, or vaccine.
Anyone who could spend THREE MONTHS arguing over what to CALL the pandemic virus possibly doesn’t DESERVE to live, frankly.
Mike Pompeo vetoed a multi-national agreement on cooperation because the nations involved would not agree to call it the “Wuhan Virus.”
And the debate continues TO THIS DAY.
Or, consider this: we STILL don’t know if antibodies work. Or, if they confer immunity.
THE efficacy of antibodies against COVID-19 are the basis of many roads of endeavor. But we have ONLY arrived at the conclusion based on reasoning by analogy. Vaccines — which produce antibodies — have worked on SOME viruses. By no means all. And researchers readily admit that we don’t know yet.
This knowledge is CRITICAL.
What if they DON’T work? There are already at least two serious human clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines underway. One in the US. One in the UK.
And folks are busy setting up plasma donation supply chains. To harvest the antibodies of those who have recovered. Again: what if antibodies don’t work?
Entire armies of research, development and deployment are being marshaled, based on an assumption that’s entirely and admittedly shaky.
This is not to dispute nor disparage, but it seems to me that there is an astonishing amount of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, dear Liza” thinking that has prevented us from taking any kind of effective action. FOR MONTHS.
Exhibit A: Trump tells states “you’re on your own” to acquire PPE supplies et al.
FEMA/FBI start monitoring and CONFISCATING shipments that states have paid for, leading to bizarro world situations wherein states are doing deals and planning shipments that would do eighties cop show Miami Vice proud.
Why not just pick up a brick, and hit yourself in the head with it? It’s easier and accomplishes the same end.
Then there is imbecilic libertarian/Koch argument to ignore social distancing and lockdowns — because Kochian interests have filled a great number of cabinet positions within the government and several Kochian groups from Tea Party Days have fueled the incipient “let’s all jump off that cliff” movement from without — and because lockdown orders infringe on their God Given Right to Infect Anyone foolish enough to use the public commons.
Billy Barr — Wormtongue to Trump’s Saruman-in-Cheeto-orange — just today noted that if anyone in the states made any orders that might infringe on those beloved Constitutional rights of freedom and carrying AR-15s in public anywhere they so chose* would swiftly find themselves explaining said order in a federal court.
[* I seriously doubt that the Founding Fathers would have for a New York minute allowed nuts in camouflage to open-carry modern battlefield weapons in supermarkets. But then, many of the FFs WERE geniuses.]
Or, just take tests themselves:
There are TWO different kinds of tests we’re talking about: testing from a public health/pandemic control standpoint and testing from a patient-who-is-sick standpoint.
These are invariably jumbled together with counterproductive results.
Example: testing a corpse to see if death was because of/or alongside COVID-19 infection is public health testing. It clearly can serve no value to the patient.
Testing someone who feels ill and has “sufficient” symptoms is a doctor/patient test. This may also be useful for public health testing.
There is overlap between the policies and the data, but we need to focus on BOTH types of testing in a rigorous manner.
[And let’s just lay aside the lassaiz faire, multiplex and wildly varying quality of tests out there, jumbled together, willy-nilly with few guidelines in sight.]
And here we run into ANOTHER unproven assumption:
If the pre-symptomatic infected person is MOST likely to be spreading the virus, then shouldn’t testing for THOSE infection vectors be top priority?
And, if not, how are we going to contain mystery outbreaks when the Butler ALWAYS does it?
After three months, testing REMAINS a complete fustercluck.
Consdier that we JUST got around to Trump practicing (fatal) medicine without a license. That should have been out of bounds the first time he (and Fox News) brought up hydroxychloroquine.
Leave THAT aside for the nonce. There are not enough hours in the day.
Just this then: there is NO CLARITY to our collective thinking and policy, to fatal effect. We are not only leading the world in infection and death, but have made ourselves a laughingstock quite rightly. We ought to be ashamed, but instead we bluster about Freedom Fries (the French WERE right, you know) and buy guns … to shoot the viruses with?!??
Menu from House of Representatives’ cafeteria in 2005
featuring “Freedom Fries” leverhart/Wikimedia
And since we demand all-or-nothing solutions, states are prematurely opening up this preceding weekend.
We may well be the first nation in history to die of impatience.
An instant-gratification culture that gratified itself to instant death.
It kind of LOOKS like we’ve hit a plateau, but given the different “ripening” times for each city and state, there is still no way of truly gauging the deadly harvest to come.
We have maps and models, but we also KNOW that they’re inaccurate as hell.
The only really salient FACT thus far demonstrated is this:
No matter how advanced your nation, in the face of utterly incompetent leadership, anything can triumph over your people.
Even a virus of which we had plenty of warning.
The human brain, for all the PBS specials you can shake a peccary’s thigh-bone at, may well not be the grand instrument promised, after all.