Expert: Trump’s Destruction Of Obama’s Legacy Leaves US Vulnerable To Epidemics
By dismantling the system implemented under President Barack Obama, President Donald Trump has intentionally rendered the United States incapable of responding adequately to another virus outbreak, according to a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Laurie Garrett warned that the U.S. is less prepared than ever to respond to a pandemic and is currently improvising its way through the coronavirus public health crisis.
In response to the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, Obama “recognized that responding to the outbreak overseas, while also protecting Americans at home, involved multiple U.S. government departments and agencies, none of which were speaking to one another,” Garrett wrote. The president anointed a kind of “epidemic czar” within the White House, who “clearly stipulated the roles and budgets of various agencies, and placed incident commanders in charge in each Ebola-hit country and inside the United States.”
The setup was not perfect, she noted, but it was far better orchestrated than before.
Following the Ebola scare, Obama further shored up the nation’s ability to respond to future epidemics: “the Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House National Security Council (NSC) and another in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the diplomatic advice of the State Department.”
Such measures are imperative, Garrett said, because not every city is equally equipped to handle virus outbreaks — big cities like New York have far greater resources than smaller cities, and the federal government is necessary for helping all localities manage the crisis.
But Trump did away with much of the work Obama put into preparing for the next outbreak.
Gone is $15 billion in national health spending, as well as the government’s $30 million Complex Crisis Fund. “The global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS” have all been cut, Garrett reported.
Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down in 2018, leading to the “reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency.” Tom Bossert — Ziemer’s counterpart at DHS — resigned along with him, and neither of their teams has been replaced.
At the CDC, the global health section “was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.”
The Trump administration’s desire to slash the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent has been thwarted by Congress, Garrett said, but retiring officials are going unreplaced.
Despite repeated warnings from experts, the Trump administration did not reverse course. And now here we are, faced with the coronavirus — which is turning out to be more contagious than health officials initially thought.
In response, Trump announced the formation of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce on January 29, Garrett noted, which is “an all-male group of a dozen advisors, five from the White House staff.”
“It’s not clear how this task force will function or when it will even convene,” she said.
This characterizes the government’s overall response to the issue, leaving state-level health leaders to organize and communicate among themselves in the midst of lacking federal leadership.
Garrett noted that Americans have largely been spared terrifying epidemics since the great influenza pandemic of 1918 — and those that have crept up in more recent decades, like HIV and the swine flu, did not garner the most efficient responses to the federal government.
The situation appears worse today, she warned. While Americans watch the horrifying situation unfolding in China — where the government “[built] a 1,000-bed quarantine hospital in a single week, [locked] down cities larger than New York or Los Angeles, [ramped] up 24/7 manufacture of face masks and protective gear, [deployed] its armed forces medical corps to treat ailing citizens, [and sent] enormous convoys of food and supplies to anxious citizens of Wuhan” — they are likely wondering what would happen if such an explosion of coronavirus cases happened here.
“The answers are not reassuring,” Garrett said.