The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday issued a warning that the coronavirus is likely to break out in the United States. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, according to the New York Times.
“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Messonnier added.
The warning isn’t surprising considering the virus — of which over 80,000 cases resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths have been reported — is now making its way through Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, after originating in China last year. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to President Trump discuss the disease. “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” Trump said Tuesday during a press conference in India.
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he added on Twitter. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
Though Trump wants Americans to believe otherwise, the coronavirus is very much a problem, one his administration still doesn’t seem to grasp. On Monday night, the White House sent a $2.5 billion budget request for money to fight the coronavirus to Congress. Democrats were incensed, bashing the request as both insufficient, and late, considering the administration had been warned weeks ago of the severity of the threat.
Republicans weren’t too happy, either.
During a hearing called to address the issue Tuesday morning, Sen. Joe Kennedy (R-La.) teed off on Acting Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf for being unable to answer basic questions about the potential of an outbreak in the U.S.
"You're the secretary. I think you oughta know that answer" — Even @SenJohnKennedy (R) is fed up with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf's ignorance about coronavirus pic.twitter.com/yx1anMAAFV
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 25, 2020
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expressed concern as well, explaining to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that Trump was “low-balling” the resources necessary to combat the virus.
Sen. Richard Shelby tells HHS Sec. Alex Azar that the Trump administration's coronavirus $2.5 billion emergency funding request "is lowballing it, possibly, and you can't afford to do that."
— ABC News (@ABC) February 25, 2020
The confusion can be traced back to the president, who seems utterly unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the virus, opting instead to stick his fingers in his ears and repeatedly insist everything is going to be fine and the administration is taking care of it. His belief that the virus will simply “go away” is likely based on how past pandemic scares have come and gone, but those diseases were contained in part because the government was working in tandem with the CDC. Now that Trump is in charge, there’s appears to be a disconnect as the White House tries to project a rosy view of the crisis while the agencies tasked with handling it are forced to work in reality.
Adding to the problem is that Trump has slashed funding for the CDC, the National Institute of Health, and the Agency for International Development, while dismantling the entire global health team in charge of handling pandemics. As the CDC has struggled to obtain critical information about the outbreak from China, Trump has praised the nation’s response, reportedly because he’s worried about upsetting President Xi as the two struggle to hammer out a trade deal. More recently, the government overruled the CDC’s advice and put 14 Americans infected with the coronavirus on a plane back to the U.S. with others who were not infected. Trump was reportedly shocked and upset by the move, but the fact that he didn’t know about it (allegedly) is more evidence of how ill-equipped the administration is to handle an outbreak.
Trump’s only recourse is to keep insisting everything is fine. During the same Tuesday-morning press conference in which he said he believes the coronavirus will simply “go away,” the president claimed the administration was “very close” to creating a vaccine. But around the same time, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told CNN that it will take “a year or 18 months” to develop a vaccine. Alexander added that senators were briefed that the virus will “inevitably” spread in the United States, a belief echoed by the CDC’s warning hours later.
Driving the president’s insistence that the coronavirus is no bid deal is his fear of panic surrounding an outbreak causing the markets — and his chances at winning reelection — to dip. He implied as much in his “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” tweet Tuesday morning. The Washington Post reported as much last week:
“Trump grew concerned that any stronger action by his administration would hurt the economy, and he has told advisers that he does not want the administration to do or say anything that would further spook the markets. He remains worried that any large-scale outbreak could hurt his reelection bid.”
The White House has denied the administration’s actions have been motivated by anything other the well-being of the American people, but judging by Trump’s comments Tuesday — as well as how he’s handled pretty much every other crisis the administration has faced — the president is far more concerned with PR than the Americans who will suffer because of his incompetence. Unless the coronavirus simply “goes away” as the president believes it will, the result could be disaster. According to the CDC’s warning Tuesday afternoon, the needle may be tipping toward the latter.