The coronavirus outbreak may be the worse pandemic the world has faced since 1918. The Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, appeared on a couple of Sunday morning shows to deliver a stern, stark message – this week is our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. “This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”
That quote is from his interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday but it is the same message he delivered on Meet the Press. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment and our 9/11 moment only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” Adams said. He is using the spread of the coronavirus in China and Italy to predict the rise in cases in the United States. Adams wants social distancing guidelines to remain in place and followed for the next 30 days in order to have the end in sight.
“And so, I want Americans to understand that, as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days,” he said, referring specifically to Washington and California, which have seen improvements.
His is a tough job – balancing a message of the seriousness of the coronavirus while offering hope that we’ll get through this if we all do the best we can to follow the guidelines. Fortunately, he’s a happy warrior. He delivers his messages with a calm voice and ends with optimism for the future.
“This is going to be a test of our resolve,” Adams said. “It’s going to be the test of our lives. But I am confident that we can come out on the other side, based on the data and based on what I know about the American people.”
When asked about the eight states still without official shelter in place orders from their governors, Adams didn’t get political, he just answered that people should go ahead and do what they can. Everyone should stay home, if possible. All eight states have a Republican governor. The governors, though, have issued the guidelines from the government to battle the pandemic’s outbreak. It’s been a real eye-opener for Democrats, in particular, who do not subscribe to the concept of federalism. Democrats simply do not understand that government works best when it comes from the lowest levels and goes upward, not top-down, one size fits all. Those on the ground locally know what is best for their communities.
Remember how George W. Bush was criticized for his leadership after 9/11/01 – what did he know and when did he know it gotcha journalism began before the fires were out in Manhattan. Bush derangement preceded the Trump derangement. So, it is interesting to see the sudden interest in how George W. Bush reacted to reading a book on the 1918 pandemic. He received an advance copy of historian John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” and was so alarmed about what he read that he decided there was no time to spare in putting together a national response to a future pandemic. He set about putting together a national strategy with pertinent officials within his administration. That was in the summer of 2005, fifteen years ago. Fran Townsend was at the forefront of strategic planning. At the time, she was Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor.
Thus was born the nation’s most comprehensive pandemic plan — a playbook that included diagrams for a global early warning system, funding to develop new, rapid vaccine technology, and a robust national stockpile of critical supplies, such as face masks and ventilators, Townsend said.
The effort was intense over the ensuing three years, including exercises where cabinet officials gamed out their responses, but it was not sustained. Large swaths of the ambitious plan were either not fully realized or entirely shelved as other priorities and crises took hold.
But elements of that effort have formed the foundation for the national response to the coronavirus pandemic underway right now.
“Despite politics, despite changes, when a crisis hits, you pull what you’ve got off the shelf and work from there,” Townsend said.
So, that’s a good historical reference as we later look back and analyze lessons learned. You may remember that during 2005, Bush also received brutal criticism for a natural disaster – Hurricane Katrina. That’s the time when state and local governments blamed the federal government for their mishandling of a catastrophic event. Bush was even accused of hating black people during that time.
This pandemic is a nationwide event, which makes it different than the others mentioned. At a time like this, it is necessary to reflect on the importance of electing governors and mayors who are competent and able to do the work required to keep our communities as safe as possible.