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Terry McLaughlin: Enough with the blame game on COVID-19 response

There’s been a lot of finger pointing from every corner, attempting to place blame for misjudgments made as our country works its way out of a global crisis.

No one could have predicted with certainty a viral pandemic arising in 2020, and no human being could have been entirely prepared in the moment to make the perfect decisions that would best preserve life and livelihoods.

Our elected leaders and medical professionals have been making the best decisions they can based upon fluid information which is changing every day. These decisions must weigh heavily on all of them. Before blaming and criticizing, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that no one understood the scope of this pandemic at its inception:

Dec. 31: Chinese Communist Party authorities notify the World Health Organization (WHO) about cases of an unknown illness.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in reacting to a fluid and unforeseen crisis moment by moment, no one will get it exactly right.

Jan. 14: WHO reports “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human to human transmission.” WHO continues to urge other nations to maintain full trade and travel relations with China. No mention of the virus is made during the Democratic Presidential Debate.

Jan. 20: Reports of the first confirmed case in the U.S.

Jan. 22: President Trump says “We have it under control.”

Jan. 28: HHS Secretary Alex Azar reports Beijing declined an offer to send a team of health experts to China.

Jan. 29: The White House announces the formation of the coronavirus task force.

Jan. 30: WHO declares the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Jan. 31: President Trump declares a public health emergency and bans foreign nationals who had been in China within the prior two weeks from entering the U.S. In Iowa, Joe Biden responds that “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of … hysterical xenophobia, and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is quoted in the New York Times: “At this point, sharply curtailing air travel to and from China is more of an emotional or political reaction.”

Feb. 1: Nancy Pelosi states: “The Trump administration’s … outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law.”

Feb. 2: In a press conference, New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, states: “There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant, and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday”.

Feb. 4: President Trump, during the State of the Union Address, states the administration “will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from” the coronavirus threat.

Feb. 7: The only mention of the virus during the Democratic debate is made by Pete Buttigieg: “The next president is going to face challenges from global health security, like what we’re seeing coming out of China.” In a local TV interview, NYC Health Commissioner Barbot says the city is “telling New Yorkers, go about your lives, take the subway, go out, enjoy life.”

Feb. 10: President Trump states “Looks like by April … in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it goes away.” On an MSNBC broadcast, NYC Mayor DeBlasio says “We want to encourage New Yorkers going out … If you’re under 50 and you’re healthy … there’s very little threat here. This disease … basically acts like a common cold or flu.”

Feb. 19: No references to the virus were made during the Democratic debate.

Feb. 24: The Trump administration asks for $1.25 billion from Congress to help fight Covid-19. Speaker Pelosi is in San Francisco’s Chinatown and says “It’s exciting to be here … Come to Chinatown. Here we are, careful, safe and come join us.”

Feb. 25: During the Democratic Debate, Joe Biden says that as president he would be putting pressure on China and insisting they allow American experts to visit. Eight days earlier, U.S. scientists from the CDC and NIH, as part of a 25-person WHO-led team of experts, had arrived in China on a mission delayed for weeks by the Chinese government.

Feb. 28: First known death on American soil reported.

Feb. 29: U.S. administration bans all travel to Iran and issues “do not travel” warnings to Italy and South Korea.

March 2: At a press conference with NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor DeBlasio states “we have a lot of information … that is actually showing us things that should give us more reason to stay calm and go about our lives.”

March 11: WHO declares the global outbreak a pandemic and President Trump temporarily bans all travel from 26 European countries.

March 12: Joe Biden tweets: “A wall will not stop the coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it.”

March 13: President Trump proclaims a national emergency, thereby allowing temporary modifications to certain procedures in order to accelerate preventative and proactive measures.

March 18: The president announces the deployment of U.S. Naval hospital ships Comfort and Mercy, and invokes the Defense Production Act to allow the administration to direct industries to ramp up production of medical supplies.

March 20: MSNBC host Rachel Maddow calls the president’s claim that hospital ships would be sent to the coast by next week “nonsense”.

March 30: USNS Comfort arrives in New York.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in reacting to a fluid and unforeseen crisis moment by moment, no one will get it exactly right.

Rather than pointing the finger at each other, check back here in two weeks for a look at the real culprit in this global catastrophe and an overview of what we now know about China’s response and culpability.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.


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