President Trump has undermined an urgent message from the country’s top health officials by refusing to wear a mask.

The first in a series about COVID-19 and how the White House, Governor Bill Lee’s administration, and Metro health officials responded to the crisis.

 NASHVILLE, TN – Back in the Watergate era when President Richard Nixon was facing impeachment, the big question was: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Rather than come clean, Nixon chose to resign instead.

Donald Trump has not been removed from office and so he keeps on telling lies.

Three times in January 2020, Trump said the U.S. had a plan, that “we have it under control”, and that U.S. experts “are on top of situation 24.7”.  He said it four times in February. None of it was true.

“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” the President said during a White House meeting with African-American leaders February 27.

Dr. Luciana Borio, the former director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, warned in May 2018 that a flu epidemic was the country’s No. 1 health security threat, and the U.S. was not prepared.

Other people have been warning the administration. Ron Klain, the coordinator of the Ebola response in 2014, told the White House for two years that the U.S. was not capable of handling a pandemic. Nobody listened.

Writing in Common Dreams July 1, Alex Lawson noted that more than 54,000 nursing home residents and workers have died in the U.S. The first fatalities occurred at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, an outskirt of Seattle. A cluster of victims was discovered in mid-February. COVID-19 infected 129 people and by mid-March, 23 people had died.

“That first outbreak should have been the impetus for the Trump administration to launch a coordinated national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, centered around protecting nursing home residents and workers. Instead, they’ve focused on protecting nursing home corporations from lawsuits,” Lawson wrote.

Beginning in March, the White House changed its message. Yes, the coronavirus was here in the U.S. but it’s “very safe to fly” Trump told airline executives on March 4.

On March 6, when the pandemic had been spreading unabated throughout the country for at least six weeks, Trump spoke at CDC headquarters in Atlanta. “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” he said. That was not true.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in testimony to the Senate health and education committee last week.

Six weeks later on April 19, the Tennessee Department of Health began free drive-by COVID testing. Nashville followed suit the following week.

On March 10, Trump told Republican senators not to worry.  “I see it — it’s over 100 different countries. And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” he said. It didn’t and it hasn’t.

In a televised Oval Office address to the nation on March 11 Trump said: “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.” But the virus was already out of control here and now Europe doesn’t want Americans travelling there.

On March 13, with 2,700 confirmed cases in the U.S., Trump declared a national emergency. “We’ve done a great job because we acted quickly. We acted early. And there’s nothing we could have done that was better than closing our borders to highly infected areas,” he said at a Rose Garden press conference.

That was false. The U.S. did not act quickly. And there was plenty that could have been done but Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, dismantled the pandemic preparedness office in May 2018.  President Obama created it in 2016 after the Ebola epidemic. Bill Gates met several times with Bolton and warned him that cuts to the global health disease infrastructure would leave the U.S. vulnerable. Bolton ignored him.

Trump’s 2021 budget request cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by 16%. The CDC is responsible for disease prevention and control in the United States.

Trump also proposed a $3 billion cut to the global health fund that supports the World Health Organization (WHO).  WHO acts as a clearing-house for investigation, data and technical recommendations on emerging disease threats such as the coronavirus and Ebola.

The President’s budget called for $2 billion to build a border wall. Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, has taken over from health experts the White House no longer employs “to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus.” The task force has a dozen men, five of whom are from the White House staff.

We didn’t have a national plan to test, quarantine infectious people, trace the infections, and impose stay at home orders as China and South Korea have done. None of that happened in the U.S. and still hasn’t. The CDC has only issued guidelines that call for hand washing, social distancing, and staying at home.

State governors and local health officials were left to deal with the pandemic on their own. On March 26, Congress approved $1.25 billion to every state to combat the virus. By then COVID-19 had been sweeping through he country for three months.

The lack of a coordinated national response to the crisis has allowed the virus to spread willy-nilly and containment efforts left to individual states have had mixed results. We are experiencing a second wave of the pandemic that epidemiologists warned about but nobody took very seriously in the rush to open up the economy.

Now the surge in cases has shifted to the South and the West. At a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was “very concerned” about the rise in new cases across the country.

“Clearly we are not in total control right now,” Fauci said, noting that things could get much worse.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” he said.

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