Terry H. Schwadron
March 28, 2020
Never mind “alternative facts.”
Donald Trump has moved on to alternative reality.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Sean Hannity in a call to the Fox News commentator on Thursday night. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying can we order 30,000 ventilators?”
Then, within 24 hours, the thunderbolt hit Trump and he was attacking General Motors and a partner company for dragging their feet in failing to meet the urgent need for the ventilators. Trump was reacting to a decision by GM to stand down after FEMA, the federal emergency folks, balked at paying a billion dollars for what GM now said would be 6,000 ventilators, not 40,000. Within an hour, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act and GM said they would start producing ventilators, ready within a month.
Is this about belief, or ego, or about actually counting how many patients have started pouring into New York hospitals — a forerunner of what we’re about to see ripple across the country?
In challenging the accuracy of predictions by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other governors, Trump is simply substituting his hope that businesses can re-open — and rekindle the chances of his reelection in November based on some self-baked notion of visionary leadership. “We haven’t seen anything like it, but the end result is we’ve got to get back to work, and I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country,” Trump said.
By contrast, the governors are correctly wondering why they are locked in competition with one another rather than working together in a united federal approach to handling the disease. Trump, meanwhile, is busily looking to help governors who go out of their way to publicly thank him, certainly a strange approach to responding to illness.
What is making my head throb is that this president, a devotee of TV news, has to be seeing the terrifying images of makeshift hospital morgues, medical staff wearing trash bags as protection, endless numbers of actual medical staffers talking about using ointments to reuse their protective masks.
If he doesn’t want to be pressed by aggressive governors, that’s bad enough. But to tell us that he does “feel” that the numbers are accurate is idiotic.
On top of Trump’s self-interested assessment came remarks from Dr. Deborah Birx, the infectious disease expert who, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, has helped establish an actual factual basis for White House statements, that “at this moment,” hospitals in New York have run out of ventilators. She seemed annoyed at reports that because of surge threats, there are news reports of New York City hospitals considering setting “Do Not Resuscitate” policies for coronavirus patients. “We don’t have evidence of that right now,” she said.
In an interview with Christian Broadcast Network, Dr. Birx actually praised Trump for what she said is his attentiveness to science — a bizarre claim to describe his usual disdain for science.
In fact, Cuomo has said that based on the patterns of the fast increase in patients, New York is about to run out of ventilators and other medical supplies in the next two weeks. He provides numbers of patients per county and per hospital rather than “feel” about the situation on the ground.
We are dependent on Birx, Fauci and other epidemiologists for understanding and projecting the need. Again, Cuomo has proved quite good about presenting information from the projecting models against on-the-ground reality in local hospitals. Clearly, officials must take action before space, equipment and staff are needed.
Hospital officials are openly worried about creating new space, recruiting sufficient medical staff from newly graduating doctors and retirees, and finding the basics of masks, gowns and protective gear, even as hospital staffers are showing an increase in positive virus tests.
At a time when people are seeking reassurance, to hear those at the White House downplaying virus dangers even as the surge of very sick patients is just getting under way, is simply maddening.
Trump is picking a fight with governors who are listening more to their own hospital officials and departments of health than to him. He outlined to governors his hope for a systemized way to reopen businesses across the country as early as next week, and in his remarks to Hannity reflected some surprise or offense to governors who were pushing him to do more in the name of leadership rather than simply thanking him.
Cuomo warned that the state’s hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with patients. “What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo said at a news conference at Manhattan’s Javits Center, which is being turned into a makeshift hospital to treat New Yorkers. “You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? You’re missing the magnitude of the problem.”
Trump later announced that 4,000 additional ventilators would be shipped to New York hospitals, but said Cuomo could have bought his own over the last few years. Cuomo has ordered that 7,000 but warned it’s still not nearly enough. The state also has approved a plan to allow two patients to share one ventilator if needed.
The whole medical supply issue smells of lack of direction and thoroughness. SEIU, the Service Employees union, announced that it had simply gone out and bought the appropriate masks through public supply lines that should have been available to government sources. Another former public health worker is distributing word that a minimum of 17 Chinese manufacturers have open sales at normal prices for the protective masks so being sought. Has our government refused to allow sales from China?
Look, everyone is going through the medical, emotional and financial wringer right now. The least we can expect from our leaders is an accurate reflection of what is happening.