President Donald Trump and his administration chose to bypass the Obama-era pandemic playbook in combating COVID-19, relying instead on more recent plans.
That’s what a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and what White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told the nation, dismissing the Obama plan as “a thin packet of paper.”
A Journal Sentinel examination of two of the reports HHS said replaced the playbook shows that the Trump administration ignored or contradicted key recommendations in both.
For example, the 2018 National Biodefense Strategy makes recommendations that, if followed, would have prevented the shortages of masks, personal protective equipment and medical supplies that plagued American hospitals when the virus was spreading like wildfire.
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The report recommends the federal government “ensure the safety, security and reliability” of supply chains in order to provide lifesaving medicines and medical supplies.
The report recommends that the federal government “conduct pre-incident planning for distribution and dispensing of” stockpiles of medical supplies to ensure they can be provided “in a timely manner.” The problems states encountered in receiving adequate supplies from the stockpile suggest that pre-incident planning was insufficient.
The report dictates that the U.S. government “maintain a core capability to develop, produce and refine diagnostic tests rapidly.” In the crucial early months after COVID-19 reached the U.S., testing in America lagged far behind other countries.
The report advises federal officials to respond to a pandemic or other “biological incident” by providing “accurate, timely and actionable public messaging,” a goal at odds with Trump’s admission that he downplayed the pandemic.
A second report that the Trump administration relied on in its response to the pandemic was the 2017 Biological Incident Annex, according to an HHS spokesperson.
This report, too, tells officials to “develop unified messaging, inform public health and medical support actions and empower individuals to care for themselves.”
Again, public health messaging was undermined by the president’s decisions to downplay the pandemic, avoid wearing a mask and defy social distancing recommendations at his rallies.
Coming three years before the pandemic, the second report also anticipated that states and communities “may lack the capability to immediately provide” lifesaving medicines and medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment and “may require assistance.”
Yet when this scenario played out, the federal government appeared to have been taken by surprise, and subsequently handed off responsibilities for gathering urgently needed supplies to the states.
The third document cited by HHS was the Pandemic Crisis Action Plan 2018, but the agency refused to provide a copy of it, insisting the Journal Sentinel file a Freedom of Information Act request.
Such requests can take months to fulfill.