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Election 2020: Vote as if your life depends upon it because it might | COMMENTARY

Voters masked against coronavirus lined up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin's primary election on April 7 in Milwaukee. Thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations so they could participate in a presidential primary that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.
Voters masked against coronavirus lined up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin's primary election on April 7 in Milwaukee. Thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations so they could participate in a presidential primary that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.(Morry Gash / AP)

It’s clear from an informal survey I conducted that, when it comes to the coronavirus, Marylanders will trust Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, before they ever trust the current president of the United States, also a Republican.

I used Facebook for my poll because all the bars are closed. Plus, it’s hard to conduct surveys on the street — assuming you can find a street with enough people on it — through a face mask and from 6 feet away.

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Americans are still dying at an alarming rate. Tests are still not generally available for a highly contagious virus that, in some cases, can infect people who never develop symptoms. Only Donald Trump and the like-minded would be eager to “reopen the economy” under these circumstances.

Could there be anything worse in a crisis than having a president who lies and boasts so much he can’t be trusted? That’s why, in Maryland and several other states, people look to their governors for guidance through this mess. And now governors are forming regional compacts to coordinate coronavirus strategies going forward.

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Americans need new national leadership, starting with the president, and the reason has nothing to do with ideology or how you feel about immigrants. It’s now based on common sense and the instinct for survival. As voters in Wisconsin showed us last week, Election 2020 is hugely important. It might also be a matter of life and death.

You can’t run a business without a competent executive and smart managers. You can’t run a country that way, either. You can’t have a president who rejects expert advice and trades in deception; when he does, he puts lives at risk. It’s equally unwise to keep enablers of a dishonest president in Congress or on your television screen. No amount of political expediency — or good TV ratings — can justify the chaotic response to our most serious public health threat in a century.

Obviously, Trump did not unleash the coronavirus; the pathogen’s existence is not his fault. But he and his administration delayed — with willful ignorance and claims of hoax and media sensationalism — our nation’s response to the threat. Things are worse than they had to be. Most Americans can see that by now, and that’s not easy for us to admit. We like to think our country is exceptional and that, above all, the people we send to Washington look out for us and keep us safe.

Lately, I’ve been asking these questions: Why have we been in such a scramble? Why did so much of the response to the outbreak appear to be made up on the run?

Didn’t we have a plan for battling a new virus that might get into the country and spread quickly?

Didn’t President Barack Obama’s staff, after its success containing Ebola in West Africa, leave us a playbook to deal with another such threat?

In fact, they did. And, in fact, they called it “the playbook.”

“That,” says Jeremy Konyndyk, who was part of the Ebola response team, “was a document that laid out the different stages of readiness that the federal government would need to go through [in case of an outbreak].”

Obama established a new White House group devoted to viral threats. But, even before Ebola, acts of Congress had given the president special authority to deal with this kind of crisis — to provide federal disaster relief while pushing state and local governments to plan for emergencies.

“The working template in responding to disasters and pandemics is that the federal government supports the states’ response with funding, supplies, equipment and, in very rare instances, the active military,” explains Michael Greenberger, law professor and director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.

But the problem was Trump’s slow or inadequate response to the brewing crisis in its first few weeks.

“The first responder and public health worlds had been predicting for many years the likelihood of a worldwide, deadly and highly infectious virus,” says Greenberger. “One only needs to look at academic and even popular writings heralding the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Flu in 2018.

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“We are now seeing that Trump himself was warned at least 10 times of this starting in January through February. And, he was so warned not hypothetically, but against the backdrop of the Chinese experience. He ignored every warning. It was only in mid-March that he finally recognized the seriousness. Valuable weeks were lost.

“What could have been done during those lost weeks? Testing kits could have been developed. The federally-run Strategic National Stockpile of [personal protective equipment] and ventilators could have been restored. With better management, the stockpiles would not have been depleted. This mismanagement comes as a surprise to the first responders nationwide. We thought the SNS was properly in place.”

So it’s not that we didn’t have a playbook for pandemic, a framework for an effective response. It’s not that Obama didn’t leave instructions for his successor. The problem is the successor.

Greenberger’s concern now, one also being expressed by governors and public health experts: Reopening the society when we do not have enough test kits to track the pathogen where we live and work. According to the COVID Tracking Project, there have been close to 3.3 million tests conducted across the country. But supplies of test kits and the materials to process them remain a serious challenge.

Because of delays in the development of diagnostics, the country is still way behind schedule for testing. And we now have the largest outbreak in the world.

“Effective and timely use of kits would tell us who is infected and who should be quarantined or isolated,” Greenberger says. “If we open the country up without enough testing kits, we will not know who is infected. We will be guessing.”

That sounds like a prescription for even more illness and economic harm. So, on this matter, we’ll be listening for guidance from the governors. The current president can’t be trusted.

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