Last week, President Trump claimed that his administration has “solved every problem” related to medical equipment coronavirus testing shortages. He also attacked governors who are following the advice of public health officials and encouraged states to reopen their economies, even as members of his own administration were warning behind the scenes that states were still experiencing shortages of PPE and much of the country was still not testing enough people to get an accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19.


In the early months of the coronavirus crisis, Trump ignored warnings from intelligence officials and his own top advisors, ultimately wasting two months before beginning to take steps to combat the virus, which by that point was already spreading widely in the United States.


Now that Trump is ignoring warnings from experts again and putting public health at risk, does Senator Collins stand by her claim that the president “did a lot that was right in the beginning” of this pandemic? While every other member of Maine’s Congressional delegation has called for more transparency on the federal coronavirus response, Collins has refused to hold Trump accountable. Will she finally stop making excuses for his dysfunctional leadership in this crisis?


Politico: Trump touted reopening. Privately, his team sounded alarms.


By Alice Miranda Ollstein and Adam Cancryn

May 6, 2020


Key Points:


  • President Donald Trump boasted on May 1 that his success in responding to the coronavirus pandemic has made ventilator, test kit and mask shortages a thing of the past, and that much of the country is ready to quickly send people back to work.


  • “We’ve ensured a ventilator for every patient who needs one,” he said. “The testing and the masks and all of the things, we’ve solved every problem. We solved it quickly.”


  • But that same day, his own health and emergency management officials were privately warning that states were still experiencing shortages of masks, gowns and other medical gear, according to a recording of an interagency meeting between FEMA and HHS officials across the country, conducted by conference call, which was obtained by POLITICO.


  • Trump’s federal “Stay at Home” guidelines had quietly expired the night before, leaving states to manage the pandemic as they saw fit. The officials also expressed concern that governors moving to reopen their economies while cases were still prevalent threatened to plunge the nation into a new and potentially deadlier chapter of the outbreak.


  • “The numbers of deaths definitely will be high,” Daniel Jernigan, director of the Center for Disease Control’s influenza division, said at the start of a May 1 conference call. Jernigan did not respond to an emailed request for comment.


  • Minutes later, another official underscored the risk facing the U.S.: If all the states moved to lift their social distancing restrictions, hospitals nationwide could see a surge of new coronavirus cases, creating the potential for severe ventilator shortages within weeks.


  • “If, at the end of stay-at-home orders, you were to lift everything and go back to normal business, and not have any community mitigation, you would expect to see in the second week in May we begin to increase again in ventilator uses,” the official said. “Which means cases increase, and by early June, we surpass the number of ventilators we currently have.”


  • Those internal anxieties came as dozens of states prepared to reopen their economies over the coming weeks, a push that won’t immediately return the nation to business as normal yet that’s still occurring against the advice of many public health experts. Even Trump himself, who encouraged states to move fast, has acknowledged the pace will likely lead to a greater death toll.


  • But the daily “HHS/FEMA Interagency” conferences also served as a counterpoint — though one the public did not hear — to the different story that Trump has sought to sell, of a swift and effective response that’s so successfully cleared the path for a restart of the economy that the task force managing the crisis may no longer be needed.


  • In the calls, officials in Washington and their regional counterparts were blunt about their struggle to keep pace with a flood of requests from governors for more medical equipment, even as the president touted the administration’s actions to secure sufficient gear from foreign and domestic producers.


  • Officials again flagged the gown shortages on multiple subsequent calls about the flow of personal protective equipment, known as PPE.


  • “Our main PPE shortfalls continue to be along the lines of gloves and gowns,” one official from FEMA’s region 4, which covers parts of the Southeast, told call participants on May 1. “I know everyone is working hard on that.


  • Trump and his top officials have touted the nation’s testing ramp-up, stating repeatedly that the U.S. is doing more tests than any other country in the world. On May 1, top Trump health appointee and testing coordinator Brett Giroir joined the interagency group’s meeting to praise an initiative to expand drive-through test sites across the country as a “great success.”


  • Yet in the days prior, officials cautioned that states trying to test scores of patients were hampered by equipment and gear shortages. Reporting on conversations he’d had with health officials in the mid-Atlantic region, one regional official told the interagency group on April 24 that states’ “supply appears to be the main limiting factor.” The story was similar among the Northeastern states, an official representing that region concurred.


  • Indeed, while the nation’s testing figures have risen over the last month after lagging for much of February and March, public health experts broadly agree that the U.S. is still not testing enough people to have an accurate picture of the virus’ spread.


  • At least two states at the time — South Carolina and Georgia — were among those planning to reopen despite logging zero consecutive days of decreasing cases, according to one slide distributed to the group and obtained by POLITICO, much less meeting any of the other basic reopening recommendations or “gates” laid out by the CDC. In Georgia, according to another slide the group saw, new Covid-19 cases were up 65 percent and deaths were up nearly 103 percent over a two-week period.


  • Though some in the administration have publicly acknowledged, and even expressed concern, that states were lifting restrictions before slowing the virus’ spread, the president and his top advisers have largely cheered on the reopening states. They have also suggested that the CDC’s criteria are guidelines, not mandates, that states can use as they see fit.


  • The potential crisis was just one of the dangers officials on the call emphasized would require continuous monitoring — and that, despite Trump’s wish for a rapid return to normal, they warned could force the nation back into another damaging lockdown.


  • “As we lift mitigation, it’s going to be critical to monitor local transmission, public health capacity and health system capacity over time,” one official said on May 1, “and if needed, reinitiate mitigation in the coming weeks.”