On Wednesday, Politico reported the details of a 69-page pandemic response playbook given to President Donald Trump’s team by the National Security Council, outlining key steps the federal government should take to coordinate a response and contain the crisis — and revealed how the White House was catastrophically late to implement the plan’s major suggestions at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Trump administration, state officials and even individual hospital workers are now racing against each other to get the necessary masks, gloves and other safety equipment to fight coronavirus — a scramble that hospitals and doctors say has come too late and left them at risk,” wrote Dan Diamond and Nahal Toolsi. “But according to a previously unrevealed White House playbook, the government should’ve begun a federal-wide effort to procure that personal protective equipment at least two months ago.”
The report continued: “‘Is there sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are providing medical care?’ the playbook instructs its readers, as one early decision that officials should address when facing a potential pandemic. ‘If YES: What are the triggers to signal exhaustion of supplies? Are additional supplies available? If NO: Should the Strategic National Stockpile release PPE to states?'”
This playbook, which was devised in 2016 in the wake of the government’s attempts to contain Ebola just years before, reportedly “also stresses the significant responsibility facing the White House to contain risks of potential pandemics, a stark contrast with the Trump administration’s delays in deploying an all-of-government response and President Donald Trump’s recent signals that he might roll back public health recommendations.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services maintained this plan was never formally adopted and said, “The HHS COVID-19 response was informed by more recent plans such as the foundation of the National Biodefense Strategy (2018), Biological Incident Annex (2017), and panCAP (2018) among other key plans provided by the CDC, White House Task Force, FEMA, and other key federal departments and agencies.”
Nonetheless, according to Politico, the existence of the plan undercuts Trump’s narrative that the coronavirus disaster was unforeseeable: “Trump’s aides were told to expect a potential pandemic, ranging from a tabletop exercise that the outgoing Obama administration prepared for the president’s incoming aides to a ‘Crimson Contagion’ scenario that health officials undertook just last year and modeled out potential risks of a global infectious disease threat. Trump’s deputies also have said that their coronavirus response relies on a federal playbook, specifically referring to a strategy laid out by the Centers for Disease Control.”
“It is not clear if the administration’s failure to follow the NSC playbook was the result of an oversight or a deliberate decision to follow a different course,” continued the report.
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