Monday January 11, 2021
The Pandemic Year: A Reminder
Finally got around to reading Lawrence Wright's epic article, “The Pandemic Year,” in the Jan 4/11 New Yorker, and it's something we should all know, read, remind ourselves of. It's not just last year's timeline. Pfizer, Moderna, et al, were able to develop a vaccine so quickly because doctors and scientists—Dr. Barney Graham and Dr. Jason McLellan, prominently—had been working on the issue for 20 years:
Within a day after Graham and McLellan downloaded the sequence for sars-CoV-2, they had designed the modified proteins. The key accelerating factor was that they already knew how to alter the spike proteins of other coronaviruses. On January 13th, they turned their scheme over to Moderna, for manufacturing. Six weeks later, Moderna began shipping vials of vaccine for clinical trials. The development process was “an all-time record,” Graham told me. Typically, it takes years, if not decades, to go from formulating a vaccine to making a product ready to be tested: the process privileges safety and cost over speed.
We also get behind-the-scenes political stuff, which I've already tried to track before. (I look forward to the tell-all books.) Some officials come off well: Matthew Pottinger, a deputy National Security Adviser, who kept beating the drum on the seriousness of it, and, surprisingly, Dr. Deborah Birx, a current punching bag for both parties, who seemed to acquiesce to the worst of Trump's claims last spring but then spent the summer traveling around the country and warning governors to adopt state-wide mask protocols. The C.D.C. and W.H.O. are mixed bags. The C.D.C. bothed the rollout for test kits, while both organizations muddled the initial message on mask-wearing. By the time they got it in order (masks save lives), Trump and Fox News had muddied the waters further. “This is voluntary,” Trump said about mask-wearing, adding, “I don't think I'm going to be doing it.” That decision—whatever part of his brain it came from—is probaby responsible for the deaths of 100,000-200,000 Americans. Maybe more.
Sadly, the behind-the-scene stuff stops once Trump turns his full attention to Covid in the spring—just when we need it most. That section is called “The No-Plan Plan,” as it was, and it's an infuriating reminder—as if last week wasn't enough—of what a horror show his presidency has been:
Trump held a conference call with governors [in March]. “We're backing you a hundred per cent,” he said. Then he said, “Also, though, respirators, ventilators, all the equipment—try getting it yourselves.”
Most governors had assumed that, as in the event of a hurricane or a forest fire, the federal government would rush to help. Storehouses of emergency equipment would be opened. The governors, faced with perilous shortages of ventilators, N95 masks, and nasal swabs, expected Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, forcing private industry to produce whatever was needed. Surely, there was a national plan.
Governor Inslee, of Washington, was flabbergasted when he realized that Trump didn't intend to mobilize the federal government. Inslee told him, “That would be equivalent to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on December 8, 1941, saying, 'Good luck, Connecticut, you go build the battleships.' ”
Trump responded, “We're just the backup.”
“I don't want you to be the backup quarterback,” Inslee said. “We need you to be Tom Brady here.”
I'm disappointed Inslee used a Tom Brady allusion instead of Russell Wilson, but I'm sure Brady, a Trump fan, resonated more with Trump. But this is another key Trump decision that boggles the mind. Why does a man with autocratic tendencies step away from accruing power? Is it the responsibility of it? The management? Delegate then. Was he afraid of making the pandemic seem worse than it was? Did he think he could control the message?
And then it got worse. The governors, remember, had to bid against each other for needed PPE, driving up the price. And sometimes the feds took it away anyway.
[Massachusetts governor] Charlie Baker arranged to buy three million N95 masks from China, but federal authorities seized them at the Port of New York, paying the supplier a premium. In another group call with Trump, Baker, a Republican, complained, “We took seriously the push you made not to rely on the stockpile. I got to tell you, we lost to the Feds. . . . I've got a feeling that, if somebody has to sell to you or me, I'm going to lose every one of those.”
“Price is always a component,” Trump replied coldly.
The governor of Rhode Island finally got FEMA to send a truckful of PPE to her state. When it arrived, it was empty. They sent an empty truck. Inslee says only 11% of my state's PPE came from the feds.
Around this time, a reporter asked Trump, “You've suggested that some of these governors are not doing everything they need to do. What more, in this time of a national emergency, should these governors be doing?”
“Simple,” Trump said. “I want them to be appreciative.”
He should be impeached a second time just for this. Keep impeaching the son of a bitch into eternity. He's been that bad.