Terry H. Schwadron
April 4, 2020
Here’s the question of the day: Why is it so hard?
The decisions by Florida and Georgia, long after even Donald Trump woke up, finally to issue a shelter-in-place order were painfully slow and late, with data proving what could easily be observed about continued public contact — and obvious opportunities for contagion. Why is so difficult for the remaining 11 states who oppose such an order? What do they not understand about contagion?
What was going through the minds of companies like Hobby Lobby which, amidst shutdown orders, until last night keeping its stores open in some kind of self-designated rejection of medical orders, calling itself an emergency service and supporting continuing religious gatherings? What makes Florida golf courses emergency services?
Why is it so hard to think that 2,000 older ventilators that had been kept in a federal closet for years might not work, and that they need to be checked before being deployed on an emergency basis to already overflowing hospital intensive care units?
Why is it that private groups like the Service Employees International Union or New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft can locate, purchase and fly in millions of masks and medical protection units when states and the federal government say they can’t find them? For that matter, why does it make sense to accept planeloads of medical equipment from Russia and China, onto to turn it over to private companies, who are pitting states against one another to bid for purchases? Is this for patients or for support of private enterprise?
Why is it so difficult for Donald Trump, in particular, but other federal leaders to understand that while a million tests for coronavirus sounds like a big number, you need to compare it with the vastly larger number of possible contagions to get a useful gauge about how lagging our public health testing is?
How could it be that we go through all the rigamarole of bringing the USN Comfort and its 1,000 medical beds to New York Harbor and then set the rules so no more than a handful of patients are getting in even as other city hospitals are bursting at the seams?
It seems to me that these are questions that any effective manager would ask under these kinds of emergency conditions. Every job I have held has required an ability to act to get things done, as well as to pay attention to people, budget and deadline. It’s what the military is so good at, generally speaking.
It’s not enough, Mr. President, to take credit each day for what already has been done. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo is showing us by example, you need to know the nature of the whole of the problem to understand whether you are making sufficient progress. And it doesn’t hurt if you can reflect a bit of empathy along the way.
Why is it a such a surprise that the numbers of jobless claims are zooming as people are being laid off by companies sidelined by ordered lockdowns? Of course, the weekly and monthly jobless numbers are on an accelerated rise; it is the necessary corollary to shutdowns meant to “flatten the curve” of anticipated virus case surges.
But why then is it a surprise that millions of newly jobless also will be losing health benefits, just as we have entered an elongated health crisis? Why is It that our White House and Congressional leaders have such difficulties in disconnecting health insurance from employment?
If we are shocked by the jobless numbers, it suggests that we revisit in whatever recovery bill comes next in Congress why do we not undertake the European model to pay companies to keep workers on the payroll? If we’re shocked to hear that our pharmaceuticals are coming (or not) from China, why aren’t we leaning on American companies to pay American wages and keep the production lines here?
Why are we hearing instructions about how to apply for aid one day only to see it reversed the next? Is anyone at the federal level capable of checking the instructions before they go out?
The questions can continue all day, but they keep leading to the same responses. Where is the federal management of this emergency situation?
Under these circumstances, why is it a good idea to pit states against one another? Why isn’t the federal government taking a wider, more assertive leadership role? And why does it appear that this particular Trump administration is favoring governors who fawn over the president in releasing federal aid?
Why can’t we get a straight answer about whether the public should or should not be wearing masks over the next month or two when going to the grocery store? And why can’t the president lead this voluntary parade for safety?
For that matter, why are consumers continuing to binge-buy food and home cleaning and medical supplies rather than allowing stores to restock and distribute materials more widely?
The continuing disillusion over public confusion is spirit-killing as well as frustrating.
It is dispiriting to hear Trump lash out against governors who in these imperfect arrangements are reporting their updated specific needs. Trump, who just wants thanks for federal contributions, accuses them of complaining about their needs, rather than praise them about actually doing the management work.
It is dispiriting to hear Trump make up stories and excuses, from supposed thefts of medical equipment sent for emergency use to how it was Democratic dilly-dallying two months ago that delayed his government’s response to an actual building emergency.
It is dispiriting to see the attention on Trump’s public relations status rather than on the projected loss of more than 100,000 Americans.
It is dispiriting to see so many leaders ignoring the demands of reality. That’s the bottomline answer to why it is so hard to observe.