Archives for category: Safety

The Wall Street Journal wrote about how different districts are planning their reopening in the fall.

Students wearing masks, eating lunch in classrooms and attending school in person only two days a week are among the scenarios being looked at in school districts throughout the U.S. planning to reopen in the fall.

Children who are academically behind or without internet access would get preference for in-person learning under some proposals. Other plans prohibit sharing school supplies and desks closer than six feet apart, and limit parents and other visitors on campuses.

Most school districts won’t decide on their plan until the summer. Some haven’t yet shared their ideas publicly, others are surveying parents and staff for input. Schools are trying to end the largest remote-learning experiment ever—more than 50 million students at home—as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s tough. A school is not designed for social distancing, it’s designed for massive groups of people. We’ll have hand sanitizer all over the place. We’re exploring masks. Will a kindergartner keep a mask on all day at school?” said Gerald Hill, superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District in Michigan.

The pressure is on to reopen schools so parents can get back to work. Some school districts planning a mix of in-person and remote learning are working to offer full-day child care.

Some districts are considering year-round schooling to allow students to catch up academically and have flexibility in case a second wave of the virus hits. Others are thinking about starting school early to help students catch up.

“It’s apparent to me that, because of the circumstances, year-round school is now more valuable than ever,” said Jonathan Young, a school board member in Richmond Public Schools in Virginia, where the method is being considered. “I’m really concerned about our students. Many of them arrived already unprepared. Now, because of Covid, that problem has been exacerbated.”

Dr. Hill in West Bloomfield plans to use a split schedule to educate his 5,700-student body. Classes would be divided into two groups, with each attending two different days a week. All students would learn remotely on Wednesday so schools can be deep-cleaned. Students struggling academically would attend school in person three days a week. Dr. Hill said the district is seeking community input and open to tweaks.

Some states are creating guidelines for reopening but leaving it up to local school districts to create their own plan

Peter Greene explains the CDC guidance for schools. He does so in his inimitable style.

He links to the official guidelines and reviews them.
Bear in mind that most parents, teachers, and students want to return to real school, but with precautions in place.

Veteran teacher Arthur Goldstein fears that Republican Senator Mitch McConnell will use his power to destroy public services in New York and other states whose revenues have been devastated by the pandemic.

He writes:

If we want to continue to get care when we’re sick, give our children education, and have police and firefighters to protect us, we’re going to need a federal bailout that devotes real money to real people, as opposed to corporations. It seems like common sense, but common sense seems to be the least common of all the senses.

In NYC, where I work, it took decades to recover from the teacher shortage that followed 1975 layoffs. Students sat in classes of 50 or more. We now know that class size is not merely an educational priority, but also a health priority. Can you imagine trying to social distance 50 students in a classroom?

Not everyone considers that worth worrying about. According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, we may or may not get federal aid for actual working people in states and communities. Evidently, before we consider such frivolities, we need to protect businesses that compel people to work in an epidemic. Perish forbid, says McConnell, they should be held responsible when their employees get sick or die. This notwithstanding, Americans who worked their whole lives in expectation of a pension are not a priority for McConnell. This is a curious value.

I’m not at all sure why business takes priority over people. We’ve bailed out big airlines and big hotels. Evidently McConnell and his BFFs need to travel and stay somewhere, and roadside inns just won’t do. Even as tens of millions of Americans find themselves newly without jobs or health insurance, we’ve made sure Wall St. didn’t feel too much pain.

McConnell himself need not worry. Aside from whatever money he’s accrued during his Senate career, he’ll be getting a fixed pension of $139,200 a year, courtesy of US taxpayers. .I’ve yet to hear him say that Congressional pensions ought to be cut or rescinded, despite massive red ink in the federal budget. So why, then, is he so hard on states having trouble meeting their obligations?

The answer, of course, is that these states are blue states. The GOP Senate appears to believe states that didn’t vote for them don’t deserve to be helped. Therefore it’s okay for them to go bankrupt. Then they won’t have to bother with unimportant things like paying pensions or providing health service for unimportant people who don’t add value to Wall St. We’re talking about, teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, among others who seem to matter not at all to McConnell.

But if Congress refuses to help states, it will harm ALL states, not just blue states. It will even hurt Kentucky, McConnell’s home state. Teachers, police, fire fighters, all public sector workers will be harmed.

Keep reading.

The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, called on Americans to replace Trump for his grossly incoherent response to the pandemic.

One of the world’s oldest and best-known medical journals Friday slammed President Trump’s “inconsistent and incoherent national response” to the novel coronavirus pandemic and accused the administration of relegating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a “nominal” role.

The unsigned editorial from the Lancet concluded that Trump should be replaced.
“Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” said the journal, which was founded in Britain in 1823.

The strongly worded critique highlights mounting frustration with the administration’s response among some of the world’s top medical researchers. Medical journals sometimes run signed editorials that take political stances, but rarely do publications with the Lancet’s influence use the full weight of their editorial boards to call for a president to be voted out of office.

The death toll in the US has passed 85,000 and continues to rise.

Bob Shepherd lists what he hopes will be the lessons learned from the pandemic nightmare.

Since I agree with him, I hope you will read his six lessons.

Feel free to add your own ideas.

Number one: Distance learning is a crock, and teachers are really, really important.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, has posted here many times about education and politics in his home state of Oklahoma.

He writes today about the politics of the pandemic:

When David Holt was elected mayor of Oklahoma City, I shared some of the concerns of fellow educators. I worried that the former Republican state senator would push for more charters, perhaps even the so-called “portfolio model.” But, what I’ve seen has been a civil rights advocate who actually listened to all sides. I repeatedly hear from friends that Holt has probably spent more time in African-American churches than all of our city’s previous mayors combined, and I suspect that is a big reason why he hasn’t bought the simplistic spin which many other Oklahoma leaders have.

I’ve attributed Mayor Holt’s open-mindedness, in large part, to the conversations that went with his celebration of the 60th anniversary of the nation’s largest Sit-In movement, which was led by Oklahoma City teachers and students. He listens. He’s not afraid to face hard facts of life.

In his 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Holt proposed a “big picture, everything-is-on-the-table, visionary conversation” about making schooling a team effort. Holt said it would “truly” be a collaboration between the OKCPS, the City of Oklahoma City, and community partners. Our schools and city need a “unified vision,” he explained. We especially need educators who “feel free to talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own.”

https://oklahoman.com/article/5656021/holt-focuses-2020-state-of-the-city-speech-on-idea-of-collaborative-conversation-to-improve-public-schools

Mayor Holt is now facing a challenge he cannot overcome on his own. And sadly, the stakes this month are life and death. I strongly believe that most people in Oklahoma City support the mayor’s leadership and his shelter-in-place policies. But we’re also the state where “one city abandoned its mask rule after store clerks were threatened,” and a McDonald’s customer shot two employees because she was “angry that the restaurant’s dining area was closed.”

So, I’m turning to a national education blog in order to tell a full story of a conflict that is growing across the nation. And since the Oklahoma governor intends to open up the state to an even more dangerous degree on May 15, our mayor, who has listened so respectfully to all sides but, above all, to the science, needs the public’s support.

For the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like Mayor David Holt would be going down in history as Oklahoma City’s version of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Holt deserves much of the credit for helping Oklahoma City once be ranked by the New York Times as one of the nation’s top cities where “There May Be Good News Ahead.” The Times further explains that the April contagion’s decline occurred in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but that the state is facing a rebound of the virus.

After facing irresistible pressure to prematurely reopen the city’s economy, it might seem like the Holt-Fauci comparison won’t endure. I believe that the next few weeks could further illustrate Holt’s and Fauci’s similarities. In both cases, the outcomes could be tragic.

In early March, Mayor Holt made it clear, “We will listen to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), we will listen to our local public health officials and we will follow the best science that the world has to offer.” Despite pressure to reopen Oklahoma City’s economy to boost short-term economic outputs, Holt says, “We will prioritize life.”

Mayor Holt: Plan to reopen ‘will prioritize life’

Similarly, as explained by Stanford’s David Reiman, Dr. Fauci “has essentially become the embodiment of the bio-medical and public-health research” which must drive decision-making. He’s done so by becoming “completely a-political and nonideological.” Fauci learned from the AIDS crisis, where he was among the first to sound the warning. He listened to protesters and adjusted his thinking based on solid evidence. Then and now, and when dealing with epidemics in between, Fauci saved countless lives by placing science over politics.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/20/how-anthony-fauci-became-americas-doctor

Dr. Fauci is disparaged by rightwingers as “Dr. Doom Fauci.” Mayor Holt has faced similar pressures. He must deal with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s dangerously mixed messages. And the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think tank, has pushed a petition, claiming it “appears to fall in line with the recent goals announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt.” The OCPA denigrated “shelter-in-place” orders as “oppressive.” In doing so, it makes the type of simplistic claim which could be doubly dangerous as we navigate the complexities of returning to a more normal economy.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5660521/tulsa-tea-party-leader-organizing-back-to-work-rallies
https://oklahoman.com/article/5659690/stitt-says-his-safer-at-home-order-is-the-same-as-a-shelter-in-place-is-it
https://www.ocpathink.org/post/citizen-petition-supports-reopening-state

OCPA President Jonathan Small argues that Oklahoma doesn’t face a shortage of hospital beds so there is no “valid reason” for not allowing people to return to work. In fact, a premature attempt to return to normal could spread the virus, undermining the economy, as well as causing avoidable deaths. This will remain especially true until widespread testing for the virus is in place.

Even worse, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Governor’s Council on Workforce Development, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, and Stitt have indicated they support policies that could require workers to choose between their health and their income. Worse still, The Frontier reports that Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Sean Kouplen is urging employers to report workers “if they refuse a job offer from their former employer as the state begins to reopen.”

As state reopens, Oklahoma workforce leaders discuss asking for end to federal unemployment payments

State encourages businesses to report workers who refuse to return to jobs

Because of Oklahomans’ pre-existing health problems, our state is especially at risk. Like Dr. Fauci, Mayor Holt’s first and probably most important contribution was the decisiveness which kept Oklahoma City from repeating the tragic quarantine delays in Italy, Spain, Detroit, and New Orleans. When the virus peaks, however, more complicated and nuanced decisions must be made. As Charles Duhigg explains in the New Yorker, “Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainty or hard proof.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not

Even though it made no sense to open barber shops, hair and nail salons, and spas by May 1 or earlier, nobody knows what is the right timing for reopening the economy. As Holt explains, “May 1st is not a light switch, it is a dimmer.” After expressing his concerns about Stitt’s reopening order, Holt said he intends to monitor data and adjust accordingly, and “If there’s a sudden shift, if there’s a spike, then obviously this experiment has failed and we have to go back to an earlier phase.”


http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/msnbc-live/2020-04-27

Holt says he wields “a pen, not an army.” He correctly adds that people are choosing to respect public health officials’ expertise. Holt shares the credit for our social distancing successes, “People are staying home because they don’t want to die.” And yes, he was correct in asking, “who in their right mind” would want to end restrictions too early?

Oklahoma City Mayor Holt issues “shelter in place” order effective Sat night

“People are staying at home because they don’t want to die,” Oklahoma mayor stresses importance of social distancing

A Greater Oklahoma City Chamber survey backs the mayor’s appraisal. It found 67 percent of responding businesses cited “employee fear” as the biggest barrier to reopening. Moreover, 37 percent of companies plan to bring employees back in stages, as opposed to 20 percent intending to return their entire staff at once.

Some businesses reopening, others remain closed

Neither Holt nor Fauci know exactly what our next steps should be and when to take them. But, as long as we can learn from their leadership, we can all make wiser decisions.

Across the nation, some are responding to President Trump’s incitements, even bringing automatic weapons into the Michigan capitol to protest that state’s stay-at-home policies and in Stillwater, Ok, threatening violence to to stop the order to wear masks in businesses.

However, the New York Times’ David Brooks offers hope that Americans will listen to leaders like Holt and Fauci. Brooks distinguishes between “weavers and rippers.” He says, “The weavers try to spiritually hold each other so we can get through this together. The rippers, from Donald Trump on down, see everything through the prism of politics and still emphasize division.” Brooks concludes, “Fortunately, the rippers are not winning. America is pretty united right now.”

He cites polls showing that “98 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans supported social distancing rules,” and that “nearly 90 percent of Americans think a second wave of the virus would be at least somewhat likely if we ended the lockdowns today.”

As Nondoc reported, the early evidence on Oklahoma City’s reopening is mixed. Were it not for Holt’s leadership, however, I wonder how many more Oklahomans would be open to an absurd campaign to discredit “weavers” like Dr. Fauci and the Oklahoma experts who haven’t been able to persuade Stitt to slow down.

https://nondoc.com/2020/05/01/some-oklahoma-businesses-re-open/

Sweden has tried a radically different approach to the coronavirus. It didn’t close down its economy, life went on as usual, with people still going to bars and restaurants but encouraged to practice social distancing, which some people honor and others don’t. The theory was that the people of Sweden would develop “herd immunity” and escape the ravages of the disease.

But now the chief epidemiologist, who designed the strategy, is horrified by the number of deaths, according to Newsweek. The death rate in Sweden is higher than the death rate in the United States, and considerably higher than in Denmark, Finland, or Norway.

Cases of the novel coronavirus in Sweden have reached at least 23,918, with its death count at 2,941, as of Thursday, according to the latest figures from the country’s health ministry.

“We are starting to near 3,000 deceased, a horrifyingly large number,” noted the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s public health agency, Anders Tegnell, at a press conference on Wednesday.

Tegnell, who has been leading the country’s COVID-19 response and previously defended the nation’s decision not to impose a lockdown, this week admitted he was “not convinced” the unconventional anti-lockdown strategy was the best option to take….

Tegnell told Aftonbladet the virus posed a minimal risk to children. He reportedly claimed there are nearly no cases among children globally, claiming that those who died following infection had severe underlying health conditions.

Contrary to Tegnell’s claim, while there are fewer confirmed cases among under-18s, there have been several cases among children, including in Sweden. At least 118 confirmed infections among those aged 9 or younger and at least 282 confirmed cases among those aged between 10 and 19 have been reported in Sweden, as of Thursday…

Sweden has, by far, the largest number of cases and fatalities in Scandinavia, compared with its neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland, which each have 10,281, 7,996 and 5,573 confirmed cases, respectively, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The daily death toll for Sweden is projected to reach potentially as high as nearly 150 by May 11, while up to 1,060 deaths have been projected for this week, according to the latest projection model by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. The team consists of Imperial College London, the WHO (World Health Organization) Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling within the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and J-IDEA (Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics).

Yet Sweden is the only infected European country to not issue a strict lockdown, a strategy which aimed to develop “herd immunity” by increasing the number of people exposed to the virus in a bid to avoid a second wave of cases.

But the move has come under criticism by other countries as well as within the nation.

Speaking to Newsweek, a 33-year-old mother based in the city of Lund in southern Sweden, Allyson Plumberg, said: “I don’t think the Swedish response has been adequate. No recommendations for face mask usage in elder care homes (where the bulk of deaths have occurred),” in an email interview.

She added: “Even children with pre-existing medical conditions are not officially considered at-risk for COVID19. It is now well-known that children can become very ill (and even die in rare circumstances) from COVID-19, even without pre-existing conditions. There is still a mandatory school attendance (ages 6-15) for healthy children in Sweden.

“This means healthy teachers are also pressured to continue showing up in the classroom. We now see that teachers have died, and households with in-risk members are more desperate than ever to protect the health of their families.

“Overall, it seems like Sweden avoids adherence to the precautionary principle whenever possible,” she said.

The New York Times has an interesting story today about the varied approaches to reopening schools in Europe. The common threads are testing, smaller classes, and social distancing.


NEUSTRELITZ, Germany — It was Lea Hammermeister’s first day back at school after almost two months at home and she was already preparing for a test.

Not a math or physics test. A coronavirus test — one she would administer herself.

Ms. Hammermeister, a 17-year-old high school junior, entered the tent erected in the schoolyard along with some classmates — all standing six feet apart — and picked up a test kit. She inserted the swab deep into her throat, gagging slightly as instructed, then closed and labeled the sample before returning to class.

It took less than three minutes. The results landed in her inbox overnight. A positive test would require staying home for two weeks. Ms. Hammermeister tested negative. She now wears a green sticker that allows her to move around the school without a mask — until the next test four days later.

“I was very relieved,” she said happily. In addition to feeling safe around her classmates and teachers, who all tested negative, she feels like less of a risk to her grandmother, who eats with the family every day.
The self-administered test at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which have been shuttered for weeks and which are now being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

“Schools are the spine of our societies and economies,” said Henry Tesch, headmaster of the school in northern Germany that is piloting the student tests. “Without schools, parents can’t work and children are being robbed of precious learning time and, ultimately, a piece of their future.”

Countries across Asia have already been making the leap, experimenting with a variety of approaches. In China, students face temperature checks before they can enter schools, and cafeteria tables are outfitted with plastic dividers.

In Sydney, Australia, schools are opening in staggered stages, holding classes one day a week for a quarter of the students from each grade. Hong Kong and Japan are trying similar phased reopenings. In Taiwan, classes have been in session since late February, but assemblies have been canceled and students are ordered to wear masks.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

In Germany, which last week announced that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation.

Germany is keeping a wary eye on the rate of virus spread as it moves to reopen.

Germany has been a leader in methodically slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the number of deaths relatively low. But that success is fragile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned.

On Saturday, the reproduction factor — the average number of people who get infected by every newly infected person — which the government wants to stay below 1, crept back up to 1.13.

With still so little known about the virus, many experts say mass testing is the only way to avoid the reopening of schools becoming a gamble.

The school in Neustrelitz is still an exception. But by offering everyone from teachers to students free tests twice a week, it is zeroing in on a central question haunting all countries at this stage in the pandemic: Just how infectious are children?

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

The prospect that schoolchildren, well-documented spreaders of the common flu, might also become super spreaders of the coronavirus, is the central dilemma for countries looking to reopen while avoiding a second wave of deadly infections. It means that school openings could pose real dangers.

“That’s my biggest fear,” said Prof. Michael Hoelscher, head of infectious diseases and tropical medicine at Munich University Hospital, who oversees a household study in Munich that hopes to shed light on transmission inside families.

Manfred Prenzel, a prominent educationalist and member of a panel advising the German government on its reopening, said children represent the most intractable aspect of this pandemic: asymptomatic transmission.

A study published in Germany last week by the country’s best-known virologist and coronavirus expert, found that infected children carried the same amount of the virus as adults, suggesting they might be as infectious as adults.

“In the current situation, we have to warn against an unlimited reopening of schools and nurseries,” concluded the study supervised by Christian Drosten at the Berlin-based Charite hospital.

The Robert Koch Institute of public health, Germany’s equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States, found that children get infected in roughly equal proportions to adults.

Other studies, including two from China, suggest that children may be less contagious than adults, possibly because they often do not have the symptoms that help spread it, like a cough. Researchers in Iceland and the Netherlands did not identify a single case in which children brought the virus into their homes.

“The evidence is not yet conclusive,” said Richard Pebody, team leader for high threat pathogens at the World Health Organization. His advice on school openings: “Do it very gradually and monitor the ongoing epidemiology very closely.”

That is easier said than done.

For now, Europe’s school openings are as varied as its countries. Denmark opened primary schools and nurseries first, reasoning that young children are the least at risk and the most dependent on parents, who need to return to work. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

France is opening preschools on Monday before phasing in primary and middle school children later in the month. High school students will keep learning remotely for now.

Belgium, Greece and Austria are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

One precondition for any country to open schools, epidemiologists say, is that community transmission rates be at manageable levels.

Early evidence from countries that have led the way in lowering community transmission and opening schools looks hopeful, said Flemming Konradsen, director of the School of Global Health at the University of Copenhagen.

Denmark, after letting younger children back more than three weeks ago, announced last week that the reproduction factor of the virus remained below 1. Older students will be allowed to return to school on Monday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest country, announced last week that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools had not stopped overall transmission numbers from falling. Officials hope the rise that was reported over the weekend was a blip instead of a sign that the loosening is already reviving the spread of the disease.

Many argue the benefits of opening schools — to economies, parents and the children themselves — far outweigh the costs so long as hygiene rules are put in place. Disadvantaged children in particular suffer from being out, said Sophie Luthe, a social worker at a Berlin high school.

“We have been losing children; they just drop off the radar,” Ms. Luthe said. “School is a control mechanism for everything from learning difficulties to child abuse.”

But teaching in the time of a pandemic comes with a host of challenges: In the high school in Neustrelitz, roughly a third of the teachers are out because they are older or at risk.

There are not enough classrooms to allow all 1,000 students to come to class and still keep six feet apart, which means at most a third can be in school at any one time. Teachers often shuttle between classrooms, teaching two groups at once.

At the same time, the virus is spurring innovation.

Teachers in Denmark have moved a lot of their teaching outdoors. German schools, long behind on digital learning, have seen their technology budgets increase overnight.

“Corona is exposing all our problems,” Mr. Tesch, the headmaster in Neustrelitz, said. “It’s an opportunity to rethink our schools and experiment.”

That’s why he did not hesitate when an old friend, who co-founded a local biotechnology company, offered the school free tests for a pilot. Mr. Tesch said he hoped the testing would allow him to increase class sizes safely and restart activities like sports and the orchestra.

Many experts advocate more testing in schools but so far it remains the exception. Luxembourg, tiny and wealthy, tested all 8,500 of its high school seniors before opening schools to them last Monday.

Some students and teachers in Neustrelitz were skeptical when they first heard that the school would offer voluntary biweekly tests.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” recalled Kimberly Arndt. “I thought, ‘What if I test positive? I’d be pegged as the girl with corona.’”

The incentive to test is high: A negative result allows students to wash and disinfect hands in bathrooms where lines are much shorter. Corona-negative students do not have to wear masks, either.

Mr. Tesch, the headmaster, acknowledges that his school is able to test only because he was offered free kits. Normally they would cost around 40 euros, or $44, a piece. But the government, he said, should consider paying for similar testing at all schools.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it’s cheaper than shutting down your economy.”

This is a story of staggering, incomprehensible incompetence. In the early days of the coronavirus, the nation’s only manufacturer of the high-quality N-95 face masks used by medical professionals offered to produce millions of them but was turned down by high-level federal officials.

It was Jan. 22, a day after the first case of covid-19 was detected in the United States, and orders were pouring into Michael Bowen’s company outside Fort Worth, some from as far away as Hong Kong.


Bowen’s medical supply company, Prestige Ameritech, could ramp up production to make an additional 1.7 million N95 masks a week. He viewed the shrinking domestic production of medical masks as a national security issue, though, and he wanted to give the federal government first dibs.


“We still have four like-new N95 manufacturing lines,” Bowen wrote that day in an email to top administrators in the Department of Health and Human Services. “Reactivating these machines would be very difficult and very expensive but could be achieved in a dire situation.”


But communications over several days with senior agency officials — including Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and emergency response — left Bowen with the clear impression that there was little immediate interest in his offer.


“I don’t believe we as an government are anywhere near answering those questions for you yet,” Laura Wolf, director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection, responded that same day.


Bowen persisted.



“We are the last major domestic mask company,” he wrote on Jan. 23. “My phones are ringing now, so I don’t ‘need’ government business. I’m just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad. I’m a patriot first, businessman second.”

In the end, the government did not take Bowen up on his offer. Even today, production lines that could be making more than 7 million masks a month sit dormant.


Bowen’s overture was described briefly in an 89-page whistleblower complaint filed this week by Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Bright alleges he was retaliated against by Kadlec and other officials — including being reassigned to a lesser post — because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency.” HHS has disputed his allegations.



Emails show Bright pressed Kadlec and other agency leaders on the issue of mask shortages — and Bowen’s proposal specifically — to no avail. On Jan. 26, Bright wrote to a deputy that Bowen’s warnings “seem to be falling on deaf ears.”


That day, Bowen sent Bright a more direct warning.

“
U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk,” he wrote. “Rick, I think we’re in deep s—,” he wrote a day later.


The story of Bowen’s offer illustrates a missed opportunity in the early days of the pandemic, one laid out in Bright’s whistleblower complaint, interviews with Bowen and emails provided by both men.


Within weeks, a shortage of masks was endangering health-care workers in hard-hit areas across the country, and the Trump administration was scrambling to buy more masks — sometimes placing bulk orders with third-party distributors for many times the standard price. President Trump came under pressure to use extraordinary government powers to force private industry to ramp up production.





In a statement, White House economic adviser and coronavirus task force member Peter Navarro said: “The company was just extremely difficult to work and communicate with. This was in sharp contrast to groups like the National Council of Textile Organizations and companies like Honeywell and Parkdale Mills, which have helped America very rapidly build up cost effective domestic mask capacity measuring in the hundreds of millions.”


Carol Danko, an HHS spokeswoman, declined to comment on the offer by Bowen and other allegations raised in the whistleblower complaint. Wolf also declined to comment on the whistleblower complaint.


A senior U.S. government official with knowledge of the offer said Bowen, 62, has a “legitimate beef.”
“He was prescient, really,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations. “But the reality is [HHS] didn’t have the money to do it at that time.”


Another HHS official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “There is a process for putting out contracts. It wasn’t as fast as anyone wanted it to be.”


A voice in the wilderness


Two decades ago, the low-slung factory in Texas was part of a supply conglomerate that produced almost 9 in 10 medical and surgical masks used in the United States.



Bowen was a new product specialist at the plant back then, and he watched as industry consolidations and outsourcing shifted control of the plant from Tecnol Medical Products to Kimberly-Clark and then shuttered it altogether. In less than a decade, almost 90 percent of all U.S. mask production had moved out of the country, according to government reports at the time.


Bowen and Dan Reese, a former executive at Tecnol, went into business together in 2005 and eventually bought the plant, believing a market remained for a dedicated domestic manufacturer of protective gear.


In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress appropriated $6 billion to buy antidotes to bioweapons and the medical supplies the country would need in public health disasters. An obscure new government organization called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, was among the agencies purchasing material for what would become the Strategic National Stockpile.


Bowen began studying BARDA, attending its industry conferences and searching for a way in to press his case.


In the parlance of BARDA, Bowen was seeking a “warm base” contract. The government would pay a premium to have masks manufactured domestically, but his company would keep its extra factory lines in working order, meaning production could be ramped up in an emergency.


Bowen said he soon concluded that BARDA’s focus was trained elsewhere, on billion-dollar deals to induce manufacturing of vaccines for the most exotic disasters, such as weaponized attacks with anthrax or smallpox.


Still, as Bowen moved down the supply chain, appealing directly to hospitals to buy his domestic-made masks, his sales pitch often ended with a plea to call BARDA.


Bowen often carried PowerPoint slides from a 2007 presentation by BARDA and its parent division at HHS, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. One had a table showing that, in the event of a pandemic, the country would need 5.3 billion N95 respirator masks, 50 times more than the number in the stockpile. The presentation concluded: “Industrial surge capacity of [respiratory protection devices] will not be able to meet need and supplies will be short during a pandemic.”


Bowen said he felt like a voice in the wilderness.
“The world just looked at me as a mask salesman who was saying the sky was falling,” he said, “and they would say, ‘Your competitors aren’t saying that in China.’ ”

After Trump’s election, Bowen hoped the new president’s America-first mentality might trickle down to operations like his. He wrote a letter to Trump and addressed it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: “90% of the United States protective mask supply is currently FOREIGN MADE!” it began.
“

I didn’t think Trump would read it, but I thought someone would and take note,” Bowen said.



He also called Bright, who had been appointed to lead BARDA just before Trump took office. “In 14 years of doing this, there have been maybe four people in government who I felt like really understood this issue,” Bowen said. “Rick was one of them.”



In Trump’s first year, however, Bowen grew newly disillusioned. During a week that the White House touted its “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, Bowen lost a military contract worth up to $1 million, to a supplier that would make many of the masks in Mexico, he said.


“Shame on the Department of Defense! One of these days the US military will need America’s manufacturers to help win another war or fight another pandemic — and they will not exist,” Bowen wrote on Aug. 17, 2017, to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Clark, a senior official with the Pentagon’s Defense Health Agency.


Clark, who retired last year, did not respond to a message seeking comment.


Proposal to produce goes nowhere


For Bowen, the first signs of trouble came in mid-January. Online orders through his company’s website, typically totaling maybe $2,000 a year and accounting for only a fraction of his business, suddenly skyrocketed to almost $700,000 in a few days.


On Jan. 20, Bowen also fielded a call from the Department of Homeland Security, urgently seeking masks for airport screeners. Bowen said he did not have masks in stock to fill the order, but the call led him to contact Bright to tell him about the surge in demand for masks. “Is this virus going to be problematic?” Bowen wrote.


Inside HHS, Bright quickly passed Bowen’s on-the-ground observations to a group that included Wolf, the director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection.
“

Can you please reach out to Mike Bowen below? He is a great partner and a really good source for helpful information,” Bright wrote on Jan. 21.


“Thanks Rick,” she replied. “We are tracking and have begun to coordinate with fda, niosh, and manufacturers today. More to follow tomorrow. Thinking about masks, gowns (inc those in shortage), gloves, and eye protection.”


Within a day, Bowen sent an email to Wolf laying out what Prestige could do. The company’s four mothballed manufacturing lines could be restarted with large noncancelable orders, he wrote.


“This is NOT something we would ever wish to do and have NO plans to do it on our own,” he wrote. “I’m simply letting you know that in a dire situation, it could be done.”



Over the next three days, Bowen kept HHS officials informed as orders for a million masks came in from intermediaries for buyers in China and Hong Kong. On Jan. 26, he sent the email warning that the U.S. mask supply was at “imminent risk.”


Bright forwarded it that day to Kadlec and others, urging action: “We have been watching and receiving warnings on this for over a week,” he wrote.


The next day, Bright wrote to his deputy asking him to explore whether BARDA could divert money earmarked for vaccines and other biodefense measures to instead buy masks.




From his end, Bowen said his proposal seemed to be going nowhere. “No one at HHS ever did get back to me in a substantive way,” Bowen said.


The senior U.S. official said Bowen’s idea was considered, but funding could not easily be obtained without diverting it from other projects.


Bowen started talking to reporters about the mask shortage in general terms. He was soon invited to appear on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast: “War Room: Pandemic.”


On the Feb. 12 podcast, the two commiserated over the beleaguered state of U.S. manufacturing. “What I’ve been saying since 2007 is, ‘Guys, I’m warning you, here’s what is going to happen, let’s prepare,’ ” Bowen said on the program. “Because if you call me after it starts, I can’t help everybody.”


Bowen said Bannon put him in touch with Navarro, the White House economic adviser.


Navarro was quick to see the problem, Bowen said. After talking with Navarro, Bowen wrote to Bright that he should soon expect a call from the White House, “I’m pretty sure that my mask supply message will be heard by President Trump this week,” Bowen wrote. “Trump insider reading yesterday’s Wired.com article, the ball is screaming toward your court.”


According to Bright’s complaint, he soon began attending White House meetings and helping Navarro write memos describing the supply of masks as a top issue. Emails and memos attached to the complaint show Bright reporting back to Kadlec and others about his work with Navarro.

None of it turned the tide for Bowen.


Nearly a month after his emailed offer, Bowen received his first formal communication about possibly helping to bolster the U.S. supply. The five-page form letter from the Food and Drug Administration — one Bowen said he suspected was sent to many manufacturers — asked how his company could help with what was by then a “national emergency response” to the shortage of protective gear.


Bowen responded on Feb. 16, by firing off a terse email to FDA and HHS officials. He directed the agencies to a U.S. government website listing approved foreign manufacturers of medical masks. “There you’ll find a long list of . . . approved Chinese respirator companies,” he wrote. “Please send your long list of questions to them.”


In March, Bowen submitted a bid to supply masks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which by then had taken over purchasing.


The government soon spent over $600 million on contracts involving masks. Big companies like Honeywell and 3M were each awarded contracts totaling for over $170 million for protective gear. One distributor of tactical gear — a company with no history of procuring medical equipment — was awarded a $55 million deal to provide masks for as much as $5.50 a piece, eight times what the government was paying months earlier.


On April 7, FEMA awarded Prestige a $9.5 million contract to provide a million N95 masks a month for one year, an order the company could fulfill without activating its dormant manufacturing lines. For the masks, Prestige charged the government 79 cents a piece.


Jon Swaine, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.

A team of reporters from the Washington Post interviewed 82 sources, including administration officials, advisors, and outside experts to tell the story of what happened inside the White House during a crucial period in responding to the pandemic. Trump was indecisive, he vacillated, he consistently put politics over science. He was more willing to listen to FOX News hosts and political advisors than to scientists. He was consistent in only one thing: abdicating any national leadership. He was content letting the states forage for their own supplies, bid against each other, take the lead. He made clear that he was responsible for nothing. He was quick to tout quack cures and quick to find others to blame for his own lack of leadership. His critics have long said that he was unfit to lead the nation–he only plays the role of president; early in his presidency, he claimed that he could run his business and the federal government and still have time for his customary golf weekends. He has proved beyond doubt that he is unfit to lead. He is the quintessential Do-Nothing President, whose major activities consist of tweeting, blaming others, and whining about the free press.

By
Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Robert Costa and Lena H. Sun

May 2, 2020 at 11:20 p.m. EDT

The epidemiological models under review in the White House Situation Room in late March were bracing. In a best-case scenario, they showed the novel coronavirus was likely to kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. President Trump was apprehensive about so much carnage on his watch, yet also impatient to reopen the economy — and he wanted data to justify doing so.

So the White House considered its own analysis. A small team led by Kevin Hassett — a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases — quietly built an econometric model to guide response operations.

Many White House aides interpreted the analysis as predicting that the daily death count would peak in mid-April before dropping off substantially, and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen, according to six people briefed on it.

Although Hassett denied that he ever projected the number of dead, other senior administration officials said his presentations characterized the count as lower than commonly forecast — and that it was embraced inside the West Wing by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other powerful aides helping to oversee the government’s pandemic response. It affirmed their own skepticism about the severity of the virus and bolstered their case to shift the focus to the economy, which they firmly believed would determine whether Trump wins a second term.
Trump denies saying things he previously said about the coronavirus

For Trump — whose decision-making has been guided largely by his reelection prospects — the analysis, coupled with Hassett’s grim predictions of economic calamity, provided justification to pivot to where he preferred to be: cheering an economic revival rather than managing a catastrophic health crisis.

Trump directed his coronavirus task force to issue guidelines for reopening businesses, encouraged “LIBERATE” protests to apply pressure on governors and proclaimed that “the cure can’t be worse than the problem itself” — even as polls showed that Americans were far more concerned about their personal safety.

By the end of April — with more Americans dying in the month than in all of the Vietnam War — it became clear that the Hassett model was too good to be true. “A catastrophic miss,” as a former senior administration official briefed on the data described it. The president’s course would not be changed, however. Trump and Kushner began to declare a great victory against the virus, while urging America to start reopening businesses and schools.

“It’s going to go. It’s going to leave. It’s going to be gone. It’s going to be eradicated,” the president said Wednesday, hours after his son-in-law claimed the administration’s response had been “a great success story.”
The span of 34 days between March 29, when Trump agreed to extend strict social-distancing guidelines, and this past week, when he celebrated the reopening of some states as a harbinger of economic revival, tells a story of desperation and dysfunction.

So determined was Trump to extinguish the deadly virus that he repeatedly embraced fantasy cure-alls and tuned out both the reality that the first wave has yet to significantly recede and the possibility of a potentially worse second wave in the fall.

13 times Trump said the coronavirus would go away.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump has repeatedly said that the virus will disappear.
The president sought to obscure major problems by trying to recast them as triumphs. He repeatedly boasted, for instance, that the United States has conducted more tests than any other country, even though the total of 6.75 million is a fraction of the 2 million to 3 million tests per day that many experts say is needed to safely reopen.
And though Trump was fixated on reopening the economy, he and his administration fell far short of making that a reality. The factors that health and business leaders say are critical to a speedy and effective reopening — widespread testing, contact tracing and coordinated efforts between Washington and the states — remain lacking.

“We wasted two months denying it. We’re now wasting another two months by just dithering around,” said Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and health secretary in the Obama administration. “The administration seems to have washed their hands of it and said [to governors], we’re out of it. You’re on your own. Figure it out.”
“That’s really the story of all this,” agreed one outside adviser to the Trump administration. “The states are just doing everything on their own.”

This story documenting Trump’s month-long struggle to reopen America is based on interviews with 82 administration officials, outside advisers and experts with detailed knowledge of the White House’s handling of the pandemic. Many of them spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount internal discussions or share candid assessments without risk of retribution.

Some of Trump’s closest advisers rebutted on the record the suggestion that the pandemic response has been anything but successful.

“This is a historically new challenge, and we’ve really risen to the occasion,” Kushner said in an interview. “When history looks back on this, they’ll say, man, the federal government acted really quickly and creatively, they threw a lot at the problem and saved a lot of lives.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany agreed. “President Trump’s swift and unprecedented action has saved American lives,” she said, pointing out that governors from both parties have praised some of the administration’s work.

Trump’s interactions with the states during the time were jarringly inconsistent. One day, he called himself a wartime president with total authority; the next day, he said he was merely President Backup, there to help states as he deems necessary.

Trump crowned himself “the king of ventilators” and boasted of his work shoring up supply chains, yet shamed governors for asking for too many supplies for besieged hospitals and health-care workers in their states. At one point, he seemed to suggest that hospitals were selling protective gear provided by the federal government on the black market.

And though administration health officials produced detailed guidelines for reopening, those released by Trump were intentionally vague and devoid of clear metrics, making it easier for the president to avoid responsibility and harder for local leaders to interpret. For instance, Trump initially embraced the aggressive reopening plan by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), only to quickly abandon Kemp after public outcry.
“It’s not going to be coming back like some people think, and part of my job, I think, is to explain to the people of Ohio that we’re really not going to be all the way back,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), whose safety-first approach has won him enormous praise in his state. “We’re not going to be all the way back until we have a vaccine that is available to everyone.”

70 Days: The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged

Trump tried to manage the perception of his performance by holding daily, hours-long press briefings that confused and repelled large swaths of the country. As the death toll mounted, the briefings became less about providing critical health information and more a forum for Trump to air grievances, shift blame, stoke feuds, spread misinformation and inspire false hope.

“It’s one hell of a difficult situation,” said economist Arthur Laffer, an outside Trump adviser. “Whatever he does, if something goes wrong, his critics will say, ‘I told you so!’ So he’s dealing with that, which isn’t a healthy environment.”

Trump’s confidants argue that the president has been moved by the pandemic. “Sometimes — and I felt this way with 9/11 — things are so big, so horrible, that if you’re the guy in charge, it makes you a little more humble,” said former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who as Trump’s personal lawyer has been speaking regularly with the president. “If you think about how he’s handled it, it is tough, it can be humbling.”

Yet if Trump felt humbled, he managed to avoid revealing much humility. Aside from reading perfunctory remarks scripted by aides, the president voiced little compassion for the tens of thousands who have lost lives or the tens of millions who have lost their jobs.

By month’s end, as businesses in Georgia, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere started to reopen, the total number of dead climbed past 60,000.

“It could get a whole lot worse, and anyone who doesn’t recognize that is really fooling themselves,” said Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As we go back out again, the virus is still there. If we don’t have systems to contain it, it can explode again. . . . There is no quick fix.”
President Trump holds a briefing in response to the coronavirus pandemic at the White House on March 31.

Seeking a silver bullet

For a week straight in late March, as businesses shuttered and jobless claims shot up, Trump talked about reopening the country quickly. He picked a start date of April 12, because he liked the idea of church pews packed with parishioners on Easter Sunday. Then he beat a hasty retreat.

Two physicians on the White House task force, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, presented dire projections based on publicly-available models showing that without continued social distancing and other mitigation efforts as many as 1.6 million to 2.2 million Americans could die. With a continued lockdown, there would be an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities. Although some in the administration doubted the death toll would ever rise that high, they shared Birx and Fauci’s goal of persuading the president to take the pandemic more seriously.

Task force members prepared to extend social distancing guidelines, already in place for 15 days, for an additional two weeks and then reassess. But Trump — who also had been influenced by watching television footage of body bags being carried out of a hospital near his Queens boyhood home in New York — surprised them by agreeing to extend social distancing for 30 days, until the end of April. For the doctors, this was a quiet victory.

“He’s a guy that goes with his gut,” said a senior administration official involved in task force discussions. The doctors, this official added, “don’t have that luxury. Their jobs are to make sure he understands where they are on the science and data.”

Trump, meanwhile, used his presidential megaphone to promote what he thought was a silver bullet:
hydroxychloroquine. Night after night in late March and early April, he kept hearing about the controversial anti-malarial drug on his favorite Fox News Channel programs, where television doctors and commentators touted its efficacy. He also heard about the drug in a flurry of conversations with Giuliani and other friends.

Hydroxychloroquine became a presidential obsession. He asked about it in meetings — “What’s the hold up?” he would complain — and repeatedly asked Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn if he was moving as quickly as possible to approve it, officials said.

Hahn said in an interview Saturday, “I can assure you 100 percent that the president has never pressured me to make a decision regarding any regulatory aspect of the FDA’s work.”

The commissioner added that in each of their conversations about hydroxychloroquine Trump has said something along the lines of, “It might work, it might not work, but he doesn’t see any reason why a doctor can’t make that decision. And he totally acknowledged that we might discover it may not work.”

In one Oval Office meeting, Trump asked advisers about a French study released in late March that tested whether hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were effective against covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The small, non-random study was dismissed by many public-health experts, yet Trump seized on it as evidence the drugs might work. As the president said repeatedly in public, “What do you have to lose?” Hahn had to explain that the combination of the medications could cause heart toxicity.

On April 3, Fox host Laura Ingraham paid Trump a visit in the Oval Office to talk up hydroxychloroquine. She brought with her two regular on-air guests in what she dubs her “medicine cabinet”: Ramin Oskoui, a Washington-based cardiologist, and Stephen Smith, a New Jersey-based infectious disease specialist. Hahn attended as well, as Smith made a detailed presentation, complete with a spreadsheet, about how hydroxychloroquine works and its value as a treatment during hospitalization.

“I’m a guy who looks at data,” Smith said in an interview. “I came as a scientist and physician. I trained under Dr. Fauci and respect him a lot.”

Oskoui declined to comment.

Some senior Republicans who heard about the meeting cringed about a television host’s special access to offer medical advice to the president, but it fit a pattern of Trump soliciting input from media stars rather than government experts.

In what was widely seen as an effort to placate Trump, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the drug, and the drug was added to the Strategic National Stockpile. But the president conflated those efforts with outright approval of the drug, which the senior official said “gave a little more ammo because it created the optics that approval had basically been given to the drug.”

Trump at times went to extreme lengths to promote hydroxychloroquine. Keith Frankel, a vitamins executive who occasionally socializes with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., said the president asked him to call California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on his cellphone and try to make a deal for the nation’s largest state to buy millions of tablets of hydroxychloroquine from an Indian manufacturer. Frankel said he got Newsom’s phone number from Trump.

Frankel was not working through official U.S. government channels, according to a senior government official. California did not agree to take the drugs being offered, Frankel said, adding that after consulting with Trump he also spoke to hospital officials in New Jersey and the state health commissioner in New York.

“A guy I know sells products to these guys in India who are making the drug,” Frankel said. He said he learned of the Indian manufacturer through a connection in Turkey. Several million of the pills could have been supplied, he said, but “there ended up being no deal.”

Frankel, who said he was recovering from the coronavirus himself, claimed the drugs would have been sold at cost to the states. “It was totally honest and philanthropic,” he said, arguing that taking the drug had helped him recover.
Trump embraced hydroxychloroquine, as well as azithromycin, as “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.” In the weeks that followed, however, the dangers became more clear. A Veterans Affairs study released April 21 found that covid-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than those who were not. Three days later, the FDA warned that doctors should not use the drug to treat covid-19 patients outside a hospital or clinical trial because of reports of “serious heart rhythm problems.”

Although Trump stopped touting the drug publicly, privately he maintained his support for hydroxychloroquine and got upset with government officials presenting studies or bringing him evidence of its risks or failings, encouraging them to have a more positive outlook, aides said.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator; Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams listen as President Trump speaks during a briefing at the White House on April 22.

As April began with the extension of social distancing, tensions grew within the administration between the doctors and scientists advising the response and the economic and political aides with longer-standing relationships with the president.

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, exerted significant influence over the coronavirus task force, setting the agenda and determining seating arrangements for meetings as well as helping to orchestrate press briefings. Short also is one of the White House’s most vocal skeptics of how bad the pandemic would be. He repeatedly questioned the data being shared with Trump, and in internal discussions said he did not believe the death toll would ever get to 60,000 and that the administration was overreacting, damaging the economy and the president’s chances for reelection, according to people who have heard his arguments.

Day after day, Short pressed other officials to reopen the entire country, encouraging more risks to get the economy humming again. Short succeeded in pushing for Trump to resume travel, as Pence had done, over the objections of some officials, who argued that leaving Washington endangers the principals and their staffs. Trump plans to visit a mask manufacturing plant in Arizona on Tuesday.

Short aligned with Hassett, Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, among others, who shared the belief that the economy had been shut down for long enough. A former senior administration official briefed on the internal dynamics described the consensus mind-set among this bloc as believing health officials were “like the school nurse trying to tell the principal how to run the school.”

Hassett’s data analysis helped affirm this view internally. Hassett said he merely built a tool to evaluate the evolution of data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. He confirmed that he shared his charts internally and that they often showed fewer deaths than IHME or others were projecting — but that he was drawing a curve based on real-time mortality data versus what the charts predicted would happen for the same days.

“I have never, ever said that that’s my projection of what the death count was going to be, and no administration policy has been influenced by my projections,” he said, adding, “It’s an utterly false story that I’ve been a rosy-scenario guy inside the White House.”

The task force members with medical degrees — Birx, Fauci and Hahn, as well as CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Brett Giroir, who leads the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — splintered off in mid- to late-March and began meeting on their own almost daily, three senior administration officials said. Some in the “doctors group” were distressed by what one official dubbed the “voodoo” discussed within the broader task force.

The CDC, which traditionally takes the lead in public health responses, has not held a media briefing since March 9. But Redfield said he enjoyed “a prime position on the ladder of the decision-making process.”

“The one thing that has been extremely gratifying is that the public health message has been respected as the public health message,” Redfield said.

The doctors group strove to present a unified front to the president on various medical and scientific issues. They recently discussed how antibody tests, designed to identify people with possible immunity from the virus, are not a panacea to reopening the country because the results sometimes are inaccurate.

“There’s a little bit of a God complex,” one senior administration official said of the group. “They’re all about science, science, science, which is good, but sometimes there’s a little bit less of a consideration of politics when maybe there should be.”

With health professionals and other new faces suddenly in his midst, Trump sought comfort from the familiar. Hope Hicks, an original staffer on the 2016 campaign who left the White House in 2018, returned in March in a senior adviser capacity.

Hicks accompanied the president to most every meeting and planned his daily schedule, aides said, suggesting themed events, tweaking his scripted public comments and even calling Cabinet secretaries to convey the president’s directives. She attended coronavirus task force meetings most days, even though Trump often skipped them, sitting prominently along with doctors and economists.

Trump has peppered his new chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and other senior aides with phone calls “in almost every single hour of the day,” sometimes well after midnight, according to one senior official. The president was often in a sour mood, complaining about media coverage and carping that he does not get enough credit.

‘The system is broken’

One of the more political issues during this period was the fight for supplies, such as ventilators, testing machines and swabs, and masks and other protective gear. Amid disruptions to the global supply chain, governors pleaded with the White House for help obtaining equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, but the administration did not quickly meet their needs, and Trump derided governors when he thought they were asking for too much or not praising him enough.

Kushner struck a nerve on April 2 when he said that “the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Drive-throughs were the centerpiece of the administration’s national testing plan, pieced together by Kushner and his team and hastily rolled out by Trump on March 13 in the Rose Garden. The president promised that 5 million tests would be distributed before the end of the month. A few days earlier, Pence had been even more optimistic, announcing that more than 1 million tests already had been distributed and another four million would be sent out by the end of that week.

But Trump’s promise of a drive-through testing site at your neighborhood CVS or Walmart never materialized. The administration ultimately stood up 78 testing sites, rather than the thousands initially promised, and then the president placed responsibility for testing on the states.

“The need to reopen, that was not based on a clear road map of how people were going to be tested,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “The system is broken at every point.”

Trump has tried to claim testing as an unambiguous success. “We want to get our country open, and the testing is not going to be a problem at all,” he said Monday in the Rose Garden. “In fact, it’s going to be one of the greatest assets that we have.”

Yet even as the administration helped significantly ramp up testing capacity, problems persisted. Several states grew frustrated as they tried to procure testing supplies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal and state officials said it was unclear who was in charge, leading to rampant confusion, and tests went unused because there were not enough other supplies to administer them.

A federal official who recently met with Birx said “she knows they are far behind on testing, no matter what the president says.”

In a White House meeting with other officials in early April, Birx said that many of the testing labs were still only operating at 10 percent of capacity. Birx said she needed to learn where all the machines and labs were, and that the government did not know.

During one call, Kemp told the president testing was such a problem in Georgia that he was working with the National Guard.

Trump has often touted a testing system created by Abbott that can run nearly 500 tests in 24 hours. But the vast majority of Abbott’s tests are going unused because of a shortage of materials and staff to run them, two senior administration officials said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said Trump was either confused about what is required to administer tests or deliberately glossing over the urgent problems.

“The truth of the matter is that the president doesn’t seem to understand the difference between testing capacity and getting testing results,” Pritzker said. “We don’t have the supplies to run those tests.”

In Wisconsin, for instance, Gov. Tony Evers (D) requested 60,000 plastic tips needed to store reagents and 10,000 testing swabs and numerous reagent kits from FEMA in late March. But by April 21, the day Pence visited Wisconsin to tout the administration’s pandemic response, Wisconsin had only received 2,800 tips and 3,500 testing swabs, according to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

When members of the congressional delegation appealed to FEMA Director Peter Gaynor and some of his deputies, the agency said in a conference call that it did not have enough supplies and that the state would need to work with the CDC, according to Pocan, who was on the call. Then, on April 8, FEMA changed its policy to make it the responsibility of states to procure supplies from commercial distributors, Pocan said.

“Just telling us to go to the private market isn’t a solution,” Pocan said. “It’s an excuse.”

Without assistance from Washington, Wisconsin began working with Illinois, Michigan and other states in a regional alliance to obtain supplies and develop a strategy. States in other regions of the country also are partnering with one another, forming a patchwork of alliances.

“The government is showing up in split screen, where Washington is dominated by whatever President Trump is thinking moment by moment,” Sebelius said. “What’s very difficult in a country that is as big and mobile as the United States is to have the state-by-state or city-by-city decision-making process. Nothing could be more confusing to people.”

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) quietly entered into negotiations with South Korea, with the help of his wife, Yumi, a Korean American. Exasperated with the lack of tests in his state, Hogan spent about 22 days arranging to procure 500,000 tests, negotiating with eight different Maryland agencies, the Korean embassy and officials at the State Department.

Once the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection signed off on the deal, a Korean Air jet touched down at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport on April 18 to deliver the supplies. Hogan said he was worried federal officials would try to commandeer the tests, so he had Maryland Army National Guard members and Maryland State Police officers escort and protect the cargo.

“It was like Fort Knox to us, because it was going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens,” Hogan said. “That was so important to us that we wanted to make sure that that plane took off from Korea safely, landed here in America safely, and that we guarded that cargo from whoever might interfere with us getting that to our folks that needed it.”

The move infuriated Trump, who has long chafed at Hogan’s criticisms and, according to advisers, saw Maryland’s deal with South Korea as a bid to embarrass the president.

White House officials argue the administration has been unusually attentive to the needs of states. After early complaints, the administration ramped up production and delivery of ventilators and the supply is now considered sufficient. Trump had 25 one-on-one calls with governors from at least 14 states in April, aides said, while members of the Cabinet and coronavirus task force had at least 113 such conversations.

“The media have been distracted by examples of disagreement instead of focusing on the vast examples of partnership and coming together of state and federal governments,” said Douglas Hoelscher, the White House’s director of intergovernmental affairs.

Kushner said Saturday that criticisms from governors are outdated and that every state’s testing needs have now been satisfied. He challenged any governor who claims unmet needs to contact his office.

“We’ve figured out how to get all of the states enough complete testing kits to do the testing that they’ve requested,” Kushner said. “We can get to a really big number in May. The biggest thing holding us back is not supplies or capacity; it’s the states’ ability to collect more samples.”

‘Get open, get open, get open’

The weekend of April 11, Trump took a break from his daily news conferences in observance of Easter. He spent considerable time on the phone with friends and advisers and began to shift toward concluding that the country could not afford to remain locked down much longer. He was irate with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, officials said, screaming and swearing at one ally about how things were so unfair.

The president set his sights on a May 1 reopening.

Trump had been agonizing over the economy, watching the number of Americans filing unemployment insurance claims climb each week. He fretted about the unemployment rate rising to 15 percent or even higher, a milestone that advisers warned him would seriously jeopardize his reelection.

In a private April call with supporters on immigration, Ken Cuccinelli, a top immigration official, said that the numbers would be “so stunning . . . that it will be a messaging hit.”

In a sign of how Trump’s priorities were changing, two Situation Room meetings on Saturdays in April began with presentations by Hassett and Kudlow about the economy. They both warned the president of double-digit unemployment and tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs.

In one of the meetings, Hassett had such a negative outlook on the economy that he asked people in the room not to repeat his comments to others, according to people familiar with the meeting. At one point, he suggested that GDP could fall 40 percent and that tens of millions people could lose their jobs. Hassett has since made similar comments publicly, warning of unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Trump heard that message from others as well. He held regular calls with a group known internally as “Kudlow’s guys” — generational peers with high media profiles, including Laffer, financier Steve Forbes and economist Stephen Moore.

“Get open, get open, get open — we kept pressing that point,” Moore said. Otherwise, he recalled telling Trump, “You’ll have a mini-Great Depression. You’ll have body bags of dead businesses and jobs that will never be resurrected.”

On April 14, Ingraham returned to the Oval Office to meet with the president. The Fox host reiterated her belief that the country needed to reopen and argued for limits on contact tracing, a person with knowledge of the meeting said.

As Trump watched television during this period, he sensed popular support. Outside state capitols, a smattering of activists flouted social distancing guidelines to protest governors who had issued stay-at-home orders. Many of them waved Trump campaign flags or sported other Trump-branded paraphernalia.

To create political cover for Trump, White House aides scrambled to put together a business advisory council made up of chief executives from across a range of industries.

“The primary concern from everybody was really safety: Consumer safety, guest safety, and making sure that there was confidence and comfort from the public to be able to go back to wherever, whether it’s a store or a shopping mall or a bank or a restaurant,” said Thomas Keller, a celebrity chef and restaurateur who participated.

Other members said they were only invited to one conference call, and the group has been largely dormant since, with no clear mechanism to share ideas.

As the White House prepared to roll out new guidelines for reopening, CDC and FEMA officials sent a 36-page document on April 10 outlining in detail the recommended stages of reopening, including detailed instructions for schools, child-care facilities, summer camps, parks, faith-based organizations and restaurants.

But on April 16, when Trump and Birx released their guidelines for a slow and staggered return to normal in places with minimal cases of the coronavirus, many of the details fine-tuned by the CDC were stripped out.

Officials continued to debate how restaurants, bars and houses of worship should operate. The CDC circulated a 17-page document with strong recommendations, but many in the White House resisted, particularly when it came to restricting parishioners from singing in choirs or sharing hymnals and offering plates, and suggesting that restaurants use digital menus and avoid salad bars. The document has not been made public and is still in the editing process.

Trump formally embraced the quarantine protesters on April 17 with a trio of all-caps tweets: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”

Inside the White House, there was disappointment about Trump’s tweets since many of his aides had hoped to frame his decision on reopening as a presidential test he had met with calm. Privately, several of them acknowledged that the “LIBERATE” tweets brought Trump back into the realm of conspiracy and anger, which he considers safe harbor when he feels boxed in.

Even as Trump berated aides last week over the poor pace of testing — “We have no message on testing,” he complained, according to a senior administration official who directly heard the president — he publicly focused elsewhere. West Wing aides are planning to book more media appearances by Kudlow, Hassett and Mnuchin in coming weeks, with fewer by Birx and Fauci.

“The White House apparatus is totally shifting to the economy,” the senior official said, noting that Trump is convening discussions about reopening this weekend at Camp David.

‘Almost a cleaning’

With Trump engaged in a war of words with governors over testing, public health experts were sounding an alarm about another vulnerability: contact tracing. Finding and isolating infected people and their contacts had been the cornerstone for successful mitigation efforts in South Korea, Singapore and other countries.

For parts of the United States to reopen, health departments need to be ready to extinguish any new outbreaks immediately. That would require an enormous corps of health workers known as contact tracers to track down anyone who might have been exposed to someone with covid-19.

But as with testing, the federal government has placed the onus on states to devise their own contact tracing programs. So state and local health departments started developing programs on their own, or formed regional partnerships.

“We need a national commitment to get this done in order to defeat the virus,” said Michael Leavitt, a former Republican governor of Utah and health secretary in the George W. Bush administration.

Inside the West Wing, there were sharp fights over contact tracing and whether to approve the use of smartphone apps. For example, in a recent Situation Room meeting, Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller questioned contact tracing because so many people were asymptomatic, advisers said.

Trump, however, rarely mentioned contact tracing. His focus was on more personal challenges. One senior White House official said that the president was among the most animated when discussing what his press appearances would be like: A call-in to the radio? A morning photo opp? An evening news conference? Hicks had to move along the conversation in coronavirus meetings by telling the boss they would decide later.

On April 21, when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) visited the White House to meet with Trump, the president asked if he would join him at that afternoon’s press briefing, an idea Hicks encouraged, according to officials with knowledge of the episode.

Cuomo declined and left the White House without news photographers snapping pictures of him with the president.

The next day, Trump’s focus was squarely on his declining political fortunes. His reelection team — including Kushner, campaign manager Brad Parscale and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel — staged something of an intervention. They presented fresh polls that painted a picture so grim they hoped the president would be persuaded to curtail his daily press briefings, as the data suggested the performances had damaged him.

One of the polls, an internal RNC survey of voters in 17 battleground states, had former vice president Joe Biden leading Trump 48 to 45 percent, according to an adviser briefed on the 20-page polling memo. The coronavirus ranked as the most important issue to voters, and 54 percent of those surveyed said Trump was too slow to respond to the crisis, while 52 percent said they believed the government should be doing more.

Worse still were the matchups with Biden on a range of core characteristics. Just 36 percent said they considered Trump more honest and trustworthy; 35 percent said he was more compassionate and empathetic; 44 percent said he was more competent; 43 percent said they believed he fights more for people like them; and 36 percent said he was more calm, steady and relatable.

Trump did outperform Biden in some areas, such as being better at getting things done and better in handling a crisis. Still, on a question that historically has helped determine whether incumbents win reelection — whether the country is headed in the right direction — just 37 percent said they believed it was.

The decision to share the data with Trump backfired. The president went into one of his rages. He said he did not believe the numbers, arguing that people “love” his performances at the briefings and think he is “fighting for them,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. He berated Parscale for the polling data, threatening that he might sue his campaign manager — although it was unclear whether he made the remark in jest, and the two would later bury the hatchet.

On April 23, the day after his campaign team’s polling intervention, Trump continued with his usual behavior. During a lengthy and at times hostile question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump mused aloud about being treated with ultraviolet light or injecting bleach or another household disinfectant into the body to cure the coronavirus.
“I see the disinfectant, where it knocks [the virus] out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside, or almost a cleaning,” Trump said, referring to the human body.

Injecting or ingesting disinfectants is dangerous and can be deadly. Trump would later claim he was being sarcastic, but there was no trace of sarcasm in the president’s comments.

That day, 1,857 Americans died of the coronavirus. The next week, the number of cases reported in the United States surpassed 1 million.

And by month’s end, as Trump cheered businesses reopening in Georgia, Texas and several other states “because we have to get our country back,” the total dead climbed past 63,000, with no sign of slowing down.