Mike Pence Found All The Coronavirus Supplies! We Had Mailed Them To Asia, Whoops!
As we've known from the very beginning, the Trump administration is just making up its coronavirus response as it goes along, largely because that's how it's done everything else since taking office. That would be a huge problem even if Donald Trump didn't ricochet between denying there's a problem at all and his occasional moments of acting like he knows it's serious.
The latest evidence that everything about the pandemic response is on an ad hoc basis comes in the form of a Politico report on the COVID-19 task force's decision to freeze shipments of coronavirus aid to other countries, now that the administration is slowly realizing there's a huge shortage of medical supplies in the USA. The lede gives a pretty good sense of just how chaotic the situation has been. An administration official called officials in Thailand last week to find out if that country could help send protective gear for medical workers in the US. Funny thing about that!
The official asked the Thais for help—only to be informed by the puzzled voices on the other side of the line that a U.S. shipment of the same supplies, the second of two so far, was already on its way to Bangkok.
Trump aides were alarmed when they learned of the exchange, and immediately put the shipment on hold while they ordered a review of U.S. aid procedures.
Nope, nobody had even thought about the matter prior to last week, at least not anyone who could have done something about it.
And because the US still hasn't figured out what a "national response" to the outbreak means, there weren't any orders to ramp up production of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gowns, goggles, and face shields months ago, at the beginning of the outbreak. Surprisingly, the magic of the market hasn't made PPE abundant everywhere it's needed. And so while US hospitals are running short and medical staffs' lives are endangered, we're being treated to reminders that desperately needed supplies were being shipped overseas without any consideration of the domestic need.
We want to be completely clear about this: We aren't saying the US should bogart all its medical supplies for domestic needs and let the rest of the world go to hell -- especially since the virus needs to be stopped worldwide to keep the US safe. We're saying it shouldn't have taken until the end of March for the people in charge to even start thinking about how to balance the domestic need with what's being sent in aid. If production of masks and other PPE had been expanded two months ago, we wouldn't even be looking at an either/or situation.
Now, beyond the PR problem of being called out for shipping medical supplies to other countries when there's a shortage here, Team Pence also has to contend with a related problem: If the US redirects supplies it's already promised to our allies, then there's yet another reason for them to ignore the US when we ask them for help. And in this pandemic, we're definitely going to need help. As if we'd admit it.
For now, Politico reports, the coronavirus task force is holding up shipments of PPE overseas, to see if any should be redirected to US hospitals, and has also ordered The US Agency for International Development (USAID) to check its existing stockpiles of medical equipment in other countries to see what can be sent back to the US.
Back in early February, the State Department was very proud to announce it was sending a huge shipment of medical supplies to China, because America is nice like that. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bragged about how generous and magnanimous the US was:
This week the State Department has facilitated the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials. These donations are a testament to the generosity of the American people.
Today, the United States government is announcing it is prepared to spend up to $100 million in existing funds to assist China and other impacted countries, both directly and through multilateral organizations, to contain and combat the novel coronavirus. This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak.
That was a little while before Pompeo insisted everyone had to say "Wuhan coronavirus" to make the disease go away. More recently, that shipment has been criticized as an example of just how badly the administration has handled the outbreak, as in this Monday tweet by Maxine Waters:
You'll be delighted to know, however, that the State Department has a ready answer: that stuff was all donated by private donors, not the US's own Strategic National Stockpile, so NO PROBLEM. One anonymous administration official explained to Politico that way back in ancient history — early February — nobody in the world knew there might be any larger problem with coronavirus here:
That was kind of a different era, when there was not much of an appreciation of this hitting the United States.
How true this is! After all, when Trump was asked about it at the Davos conference on January 22, the day after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the US, he explained there simply would not be a pandemic:
No. Not at all. And — we're — we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's — going to be just fine.
To be fair, we were all about 30 years younger two months ago, so how can any of us youngsters say Trump blew it?
In any case, the administration wants you to know that now that the task force has been thinking about this for a week or so, and everything's good:
"It's a good thing that we're taking a holistic look at where and when we're sending PPE as we're looking to fulfill needs here at home," said Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller.
And Trump has given this a lot of thought too, at least to the extent that he can yell "America First!" at his shambolic coronavirus rallies.
During Monday's task force briefing, he emphasized that the U.S. was sending only "things that we don't need" to other countries. "We're going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things – of surgical and medical and hospital things to Italy," he announced.
So now we'll be very careful to balance the needs of US medical workers against what those foreigns are asking for, and apart from still not having any overall strategy to allocate scarce supplies, everything should be fine, at least for the highest bidders.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.