The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected science and medical academic journals in the United States, issued an exhaustive study on Feb. 10 lambasting the Trump administration’s public health response to COVID-19 and alleging that at least 40% of U.S. deaths were avoidable.
According to the report, entitled “Public policy and health in the Trump era,” former President Donald Trump “exploited low and middle-income white people’s anger over their deteriorating life prospects to [mobilize] racial animus and xenophobia and enlist their support for policies that benefit high-income people and corporations and threaten health.”
They concluded that America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic failed in both policy and practice compared to that of economic peers such as Japan, Canada and other G-7 countries.
In relation to the global total, the U.S. currently leads in both total cases and deaths. Although the study does not place blame solely on the former president’s shoulders, their analysis claims that hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved had proper measures been taken.
The journal also mentions the fact that there were dozens of “pandemic preparedness exercises” under Trump’s administration and several prior administrations which laid out nearly the exact same scenario which the U.S. found itself in at the beginning of the pandemic. Despite this, Trump falsely stated in March 2020, “nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this before.”
Two U.S. government/non-governmental organization (NGO) scenarios in particular evince their relevance to the current pandemic, one dubbed “Event 201” and the other entitled “Crimson Contagion,” with each “tabletop exercise” occurring during Trump’s administration in 2019.
Event 201, which was named for the estimated 200 “epidemic events” that occur on average every year globally, was conducted to predict what could occur in a deadly novel coronavirus outbreak. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security hosted Event 201 on Oct. 18, 2019 in New York City in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Nature Magazine provided a brief description of the exercise in an August 2020 article entitled “Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump.” According to the report, Event 201 anticipated the possible failures of America’s COVID-19 response, including failed travel bans, PPE shortages and other critical pitfalls of public policy. The scenario, however, couldn’t predict Trump.
The second 2019 exercise, Crimson Contagion, was not all too dissimilar from the first. The joint exercise, headed by former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, was conducted from January–August 2019.
Dozens of national, state and local, private and public entities in the U.S. participated in order to “test the capacity of the federal government and twelve states to respond to a severe pandemic of influenza originating in China,” according to an analysis by The New York Times.
The simulation, which was conducted just a few months before the beginning of the current pandemic, involved a scenario in which tourists returning from China spread a respiratory virus, infecting and killing the population at an even faster rate than COVID-19.
The HHS report released at the terminus of the exercise summarizes the government’s limited capacity to respond to a pandemic, with federal agencies lacking funds, coordination and resources to facilitate an effective response to the virus. Allegedly, this report had been presented to Trump to no avail.
Considering the current death toll, some experts have elucidated a path forward by looking backwards.
“From a public health perspective [the Lancet study] highlights the real costs of dismantling decades of pandemic preparation and planning at the CDC for a lethal respiratory borne virus,” said Professor David Bangsberg, founding dean of Oregon Health and Science University at the Portland State School of Public Health. “It also highlights the costs of ignoring and discrediting science-based policies to respond to a pandemic as well as the importance of clear and decisive federal leadership to build public trust and necessary national infrastructure to promote life-saving policies.”
Bangsberg did not mention the possibilities of future viral outbreaks and these so-called “epidemic events,” 200 or more a year of which happen globally. The World Health Organization stated in October 2020 that “COVID-19 will not be the world’s last health emergency and there is an urgent need for sustainable health emergency preparedness to deal with the next one.”
“We have paid the cost in both lives as well as exacerbating inequities of historically oppressed groups, particularly in Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color,” Bangsberg said. “Disregard for science-based public health policy not only negatively impacted our response to COVID-19, but an array of local, national and climate related forces that create and sustain inequity.”