Archives for category: Science

The New York Times declared that its coverage of the pandemic would not be locked behind a paywall, so I’m assuming this article is available for free use.

It focuses on the fight to contain the virus in Harris County (Houston). One obstacle is the defunding of public health services in this country, which left us unprepared for the pandemic. Another obstacle is the actions of politicians who follow Trump’s lead and minimize the danger to the public. A third obstacle is the stubborn refusal of a large minority who insist on their “right” to do what they want without regard to the community.

This combination has crippled the nation’s response to the pandemic and will cost many thousands of lives.

This piece was published today on the New York Review of Books blog. Readers of this blog will be familiar with its contents. Readers of the NYBR blog will learn about the debate about how and when to reopen schools and will learn about how Trump and Pence strong-armed the CDC and forced it to weaken its guidance to schools on reopening.

Trump cares more about his re-election than about the lives of America’s students and school staff. He proved it. Today he tweeted a suggestion that the November elections should be delayed, a decision that belongs to Congress, not to him. You can bet that if Congress agreed (the Democratic House would never agree), there would never be another election in his lifetime. His good friend Putin should won a referendum to keep him in power until 2026. Trump must be envious.

This story appeared in the Washington Post. This refusal to follow medical advice will continue to spread the disease and cause unnecessary deaths. The world is watching our rudderless response to the pandemic and feeling sorry for us. Why ask a doctor for her best advice in a dire situation and then ignore it?

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) said Monday that he has no plans to close bars and curb indoor dining — minutes after White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx recommended those measures at a joint news conference with the governor.

Saying that the coronavirus situation in Tennessee was at an “inflection point,” Birx said Monday that diligence and targeted business restrictions statewide could have an effect on a par with a stay-at-home order.

“We can change the future of this virus in this state today,” she said. “If we continue to social-distance, if every mayor throughout this great state would mandate masks, close the bars and substantially increase indoor dining distancing, together we can get through this.”

But when Lee took the microphone later, he said there are currently no plans to close bars or limit dining. Some mayors can shutter businesses on their own, but the vast majority of Tennessee’s county health departments fall under Lee’s purview, the Tennessean reports.

“I’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there’s nothing off the table,” Lee said after a reporter brought up the issue. “I’ve also said that we are not going to close the economy back down, and we are not going to.”

“But I appreciate their recommendations and we take them seriously,” he said, after thanking Birx for visiting his state and saying there were “productive meetings” about education plans and strategies to encourage mask-wearing, among other topics.

Lee has also declined to issue a statewide mask order, though he promoted their effectiveness Monday, and Birx said Monday that she believes the governor has a “sound strategy” and supports local officials taking the lead. Birx appealed to the mayors of rural counties in particular to mandate face coverings, saying that a majority of counties in Tennessee require them but that “we need 100 percent.”

On another front in the battle against COVID-19, the head of Baltimore’s Intensive Care Unit died of the virus.

Joseph J. Costa, chief of the hospital’s Critical Care Division, died about 4:45 a.m. Saturday in the same ICU he supervised. He was attended by his partner of 28 years and about 20 staff members, who placed their hands on him as he died. Costa was 56.

Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer. This article in Foreign Affairs explains why Trump and DeVos’s demand to reopen the schools for full-time, in-person schooling in a few weeks will fail. The schools don’t have the money to meet the necessary safety requirements. The less affluent the community, the less money is available to reduce class sizes and make the schools safe.

The article makes excellent points and contains a useful summary of research. I urge you to read it.

But be warned: it has the worst, most misleading headline I have ever seen in any article. I don’t hold writers responsible for headlines. I wonder whether the person who wrote it read the article.

The schools are neither a moral nor a medical catastrophe. It would have been more accurate to say that the federal government’s treatment of the schools is a moral and medical catastrophe. After all, we have a president who scoffs at science. Who can trust their children’s lives to his uninformed advice? It is obvious that his desire to open the schools is based on his political self-interest, not the lives of children and staff.

Where the pandemic is raging, it is not safe to open schools. Where it appears to have been controlled, the schools must reopen cautiously, with the resources needed to keep people as safe as possible, and with full awareness that there might be a resurgence of the virus.

Mercedes Schneider reviews the current condition of many states and points out that no state has met the conditions described in the CDC guidelines.

As of this writing, no state has met the May 2020 Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for moving into Phase 1 (“Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases over a 14-day period) muct less the additional criteria for entering Phase 2 (“Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases for at least 14 days after entering Phase 1).

That’s 28 days of supposed “downward trajectory” prior to entering Phase 2, and that assumes increased testing.

Also in phase 2, COVID-19 test results are supposed to be available in three days or less. That is not happening.

In most states, cases are increasing.

Nonetheless, many states are moving towards reopening their schools so parents can get back to work.

Children can get sick with COVID-19. So can teachers.

Schools are asking teachers to risk their lives for their livelihood.

If a teacher or student does get sick, expect schools to close again.

Jan Resseger reviews the Catch-22 situation in which schools are trapped: Trump demands that they open in a few weeks or he will cut their federal funding. The CDC says that a safe opening requires hyper-vigilance about health, safety, social distancing, small classes, cleaning, masks, etc.

But Trump and Congress have refused to pay for reopening.

Bottom line: schools can’t reopen unless it is safe for students and staff.

Public Education Partners is the leading volunteer advocacy group for public schools in Ohio.

They issued this statement last night.

We are public education experts.

Public Education Partners (PEP) is a statewide, grassroots public education advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, protect, and strengthen Ohio’s public schools. Public Education Partners is an integral part of education policy deliberations through legislative consultation, Statehouse testimony, and community forums, among other actions. Over 90% of Ohio’s children attend public schools, and Ohio’s public-school system is the largest employer in the state.

The PEP Board is an entirely volunteer group comprised of:
active and retired educators and administrators with a collective total of over 350 years of teaching experience in Ohio’s public schools’ urban, suburban and rural districts;
public school board members;
city council members;
parents and grandparents of Ohio Public School students

PEP is a nonprofit organization that does not endorse political candidates. Public Education Partners has no paid members.

We believe district-sourced remote learning is warranted for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year across Ohio.

PEP believes that opening the school year with full-time remote learning, sourced within school districts, is the best approach to keeping children, school staff and their families safe from the public health crisis of coronavirus infection and spread.

As much as we know teachers miss face-to-face teaching and students miss their school communities and activities, PEP urges Ohio to embrace a statewide commitment to remote learning until the pandemic is brought under control. Returning to school buildings for on-site teaching and learning should be reassessed quarterly following science-based evaluations of the containment of the virus.

The recent rise in coronavirus cases in Ohio is cause for extreme caution. Subsequent to the gradual reopening of Ohio’s economy beginning in mid-May, coronavirus cases dropped 40% until mid-June; after June 21 the number of cases in Ohio has more than doubled through Sunday, July 19.

During the past four weeks, Ohio has recorded twelve of the fourteen highest daily case totals of the entire pandemic, including a record 1,679 cases Friday July 17, another 1,542 cases Saturday July 18, the third-highest number reported since March, and an additional 1,110 cases Sunday July 19.

Currently, more than 60% of Ohioans are living in counties declared a Level 3 Public Emergency: very high exposure and spread. Governor DeWine’s state orders for Level 3 counties call for limiting activities outside the home as much as possible and wearing face coverings inside all public buildings.

A full 36% of total cases throughout the four months of the pandemic have come in the past twenty-five days. The total number of confirmed and probable cases as of Sunday July 19 is 74,932. A record 9,555 Ohioans have been hospitalized, and 3,174 Ohioans have died of COVID-19.

While we all share the goal of returning to school buildings as soon as possible, experimenting with our children’s health and safety does not reflect a society where we put children first.

Given the rise in coronavirus cases, any full-time or “hybrid” plan to reopen school buildings for on-site teaching and learning puts the lives of Ohio’s children, teachers, administration, school staff, and their families at risk.

Our recommendations are rooted in Science.

School districts should reopen according to evidence-based research from scientists, public health experts, and educators. Because children’s welfare relies on schools’ decisions, neither political expediency nor profit motives should be given priority over science.

According to health experts, COVID-19 is a highly contagious, deadly disease and the role of children in the transmission of COVID-19 is currently unknown. Health experts fear it can cause potential lifelong damage in children and emphasize that the long-term consequences of coronavirus in children are unknown.

A troubling trend concerning children and the virus is the recent report that children in Florida are showing a 31.1 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 infections based on state testing data. Children in Florida are testing positive for the virus at a 20 percent higher rate than adults who have about an 11 percent positivity rate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared that it was not confident that reopening schools in the middle of this public health crisis is the best option for children. This reversal of its earlier statement exemplifies the speed with which schools continue to receive vague and conflicting information from the medical and scientific communities.

This is a novel and evolving virus. There is emerging evidence that airborne transmission is a significant factor in the virus spread. Scientists continue to discover new symptoms, risk factors, and methods of virus transmission. The long-term effects of the disease to Covid-19 survivors are yet unknown.

Ohio is not ready to open schools.

PEP believes that in order for a county to safely reopen its school buildings, the coronavirus transmission rate needs to be scientifically demonstrated to be near zero. Our conviction is consistent with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and ongoing reports from Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) that the United States remains in the first of what will most likely be a series of viral waves.

In Ohio and most of the United States, there has been no flattening of the curve. The data cited above regarding these continuing spikes in infection rates in July is clear evidence the pandemic is not under control.

Other countries, such as New Zealand, Vietnam, and Germany, have responsibly reopened schools but did so only after they flattened the curve and drastically reduced infection rates through rapid case identification, contact tracing, and isolation.

Our recommendations are rooted in our deep commitment to the role of public schools.

Always, our number one priority in public schools is to keep our school communities safe.

The reopening of schools must be primarily about the health and safety of the learning environment, for the sake of students, faculty, support staff, and their families.

Despite exhaustive efforts throughout the state and the country to safeguard a return to school,
there is currently no tenable plan for keeping children infection-free in our schools,
there is currently no tenable plan for keeping adults infection-free in our schools.

The realities of education budgets must be considered in any discussion about this pandemic.

State funding:

Ohio’s K-12 public school budget has been slashed by $330 million as an emergency measure to cope with Ohio’s collapsing economy. Financially strapped taxpayers are not able to make up the school funding shortfall with additional school levies bringing higher property taxes for homeowners. Schools would be challenged without a pandemic to make the reduced budget work—in the midst of this global pandemic, unprecedented help is needed.

Pandemic-related expenses:
Neither the state of Ohio nor the federal government has provided adequate resources for increased health and safety precautions in school buildings.

Similarly, increased technological needs necessitated by the pandemic and increased distance learning, such as internet infrastructure and personal computers for all students, have not been met.

School buildings with aging heating and cooling systems lack the filtration features that reduce viral transmissions, and windows that do not open properly to promote air circulation will further increase the chance of pandemic spread.

Following CDC recommendations of keeping schools clean and maintaining six-foot physical distances between people, even in makeshift fashion or reduced capacity, is unrealistic. However careful teachers are to facilitate social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing, students are active social beings who are used to learning and playing close together.

Teacher and staff substitution potential:

Consider some basic facts about Ohio’s teaching workforce-

25% of the teacher workforce is over the age of fifty, which by definition puts them at higher risk of suffering serious illness from Covid-19.

Most schools do not have full-time nurses in their buildings.

The anticipated medical exemptions for teachers who are immunocompromised or have high-risk health conditions will be significant in number.

A shortage of both long-term teachers and substitute teachers that pre-dates the pandemic will only make the infection rates and coverage of teacher absences more difficult for students.

Virus testing is neither universally reliable and timely, nor universally available in Ohio.

Already during the pandemic, mental health issues have escalated in a significant proportion of the population from anxiety and fear of exposure to the virus. The trauma associated with rapid unexpected change will be exacerbated by every known case of viral spread within schools.

The idea of quarantining entire groups of teachers and students upon the discovery of a confirmed case of Covid-19 is untenable, and such disruption compromises the effectiveness of on-site teaching and learning for everyone.

We categorically reject the idea that schools must reopen on behalf of the struggling economy.

PEP believes that federal mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States is the cause of the extreme economic upset that has ensued. It is neither the schools’ responsibility, nor sound policy, to attempt to remedy the situation by reopening school buildings at high risk to the school communities. The health and safety of Ohio’s students, staff, and families must remain our top priority.


Ohio’s K-12 public school district communities share in the suffering caused by this coronavirus pandemic. Lives have been turned upside down, and the uncertainty of this evolving global crisis causes loss, disequilibrium, and anxiety. PEP believes that moving into the upcoming school year with calm and resolve is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of Ohio’s system of public education.

Public Education Partners continues to be an educational resource for school districts and local communities across Ohio. PEP proposes pooling our collective community resources to keep our public schools safe. Shared responsibility in creating a risk-free school reopening plan will allow us to emerge stronger together in our commitment to public education and the children and families we serve.



Click to access summary1_page_.pdf

Click to access samestormdiffboats_final.pdf

This just in:

July 20, 2020
CONTACT: Joni Branch, (850) 201-3223 or (850) 544-7055

Florida educators file lawsuit to protect health and well-being of students, educators and communities

TALLAHASSEE — Along with educators and parents, the Florida Education Association (FEA) filed suit Monday against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, the Florida State Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to safeguard the health and welfare of public school students, educators and the community at large. The lawsuit intends to stop the reckless and unsafe reopening of public school campuses as coronavirus infections surge statewide.

“Gov. DeSantis needs a reality check, and we are attempting to provide one,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “The governor needs to accept the reality of the situation here in Florida, where the virus is surging out of control. He needs to accept the evolving science. It now appears that kids 10 and older may pass along the coronavirus as easily as adults. Everyone wants schools to reopen, but we don’t want to begin in-person teaching, face an explosion of cases and sickness, then be forced to return to distance learning.

Florida’s Constitution demands that public schools be safe. Teachers and parents want our schools to meet that basic standard.”

Find the lawsuit online here:

The leaders of FEA’s national affiliates are fully in support of the suit.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
“The push to physically reopen schools full time without any precautions or new resources, and, most importantly, amid a skyrocketing COVID-19 surge, ignores science, safety and basic humanity. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order, as carried out by others, puts an entire generation of kids — as well as their families and their educators — at risk. As educators, we know in-person learning is what’s best for students. And while educators want to be back in the classroom, it is not possible when the state or a local region can’t ensure that schools won’t become hot spots for virus spread. That is why across this country, from red states like Texas to blue states like California, where cases are surging, elected officials are putting a pause on in-person reopening. They are leaving it to local control, which has previously been a celebrated, time-honored tradition in Florida.

“Further complicating getting our schools physically open again is the abject failure to date of both the president and the Senate to follow the House of Representatives’ lead to provide schools with the resources they need to fund safe reopening plans. Here in Florida, the governor has a constitutional obligation to make schools safe, and he’s failed. If he won’t look out for students’ and teachers’ best interests, we will.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García:

“No one wants to be back in the classroom with students more than educators, but we must do so only if we can ensure it is done in a safe way. Unfortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis, like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, has no plan to solve the real issues facing public schools during a pandemic, and that’s a major concern to students, educators and parents. He needs to listen to health experts and educators to do this right — and not pressure school districts to rush to reopen putting students, educators and communities at risk. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students — particularly for Black, brown and students living in poverty. We must address these inequities now — not push for school reopenings that will harm those students the most — and that requires equitable tools and resources from the federal government, which has failed to act. Whether school buildings are open or not, educators are preparing to ensure all students have the best possible learning, and the Senate needs to do its job by passing the HEROES Act.”

About the lawsuit:

The FEA lawsuit has been filed in state circuit court in Miami, in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. FEA is joined in the litigation by Broward teacher Stephanie Beth Miller; Ladera Royal, an educator in Orange County; and Mindy Festge, a teacher and parent in Miami-Dade County,

The lawsuit contends that ordering an unsafe return to onsite instruction at public schools is a violation of Florida’s Constitution, which requires the provision of a “safe” and “secure” schools, and requests a declaration that the state defendants’ actions and inactions are unconstitutional. In a second count, the suit seeks a declaration from the court that the state defendants are putting arbitrary and capricious demands on public schools through the education commissioner’s unfunded emergency order.

A third count in the suit seeks an order enjoining the state defendants, along with Mayor Gimenez, from forcing millions of students and educators to report to unsafe schools that should remain physically closed during the spike of the pandemic; ordering defendants to implement a meaningful online instruction plan with accessible internet connectivity and computers; ordering that before schools reopen they must have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, reduced class sizes, social distancing, staffing, and school clinic capabilities in compliance with CDC guidelines and other health authorities.

Florida’s push to return students to classrooms comes as evidence grows that reopening while case numbers and test positivity rates remain high could lead to dire results — worsening the spead of the virus while endangering the lives of children, educators and communities at large.

Our state currently has more than 350,000 diagnosed cases of coronavirus and has been adding to that total by more than 10,000 cases per day, with test positivity rates averaging above 12 percent. Hospitals in areas such as Miami-Dade are overloaded with patients suffering from Covid-19. More than 5,000 deaths have been recorded statewide.

It is notable that countries that have successfully reopened schools without igniting an increase in cases, have done so after case levels were pushed to near zero and transmission rates were low. That is clearly not the case in the Sunshine State. Our situation might be better compared to that of Israel, where reopening saw cases resurge.

Meanwhile, the jury is out on the risk of long-term damage to children who contract the virus. Evidence mounts, however, that older students can spread the disease. A large new study from South Korea finds that kids between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.

Educators want to return to our schools and be with their students. Distance learning is not the preferred solution for our kids, but protecting the safety and well-being of students, educators and communities must be paramount to other concerns. Keeping kids and adults healthy should be our first goal.

Whether school buildings are open or not this fall, we need to ensure that we’re preparing to provide students with the best possible learning experience — meaning all students, whether they are Black, brown or white, have the tools and resources necessary to succeed.

And when students return, we must ensure they have better conditions for learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students, in particular students of color and children living in poverty, and we must address these inequities now.


The New York Times published an in-depth report about the failure of the Trump administration to respond to the pandemic with a coherent policy. The administration abdicated any responsibility and handed the problems over to the governors. As you will read, the Trump team relied on Dr. Deborah Birx, who gave them the upbeat reports they wanted to hear.

Each morning at 8 as the coronavirus crisis was raging in April, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, convened a small group of aides to steer the administration through what had become a public health, economic and political disaster.

Seated around Mr. Meadows’s conference table and on a couch in his office down the hall from the Oval Office, they saw their immediate role as practical problem solvers. Produce more ventilators. Find more personal protective equipment. Provide more testing.

But their ultimate goal was to shift responsibility for leading the fight against the pandemic from the White House to the states. They referred to this as “state authority handoff,” and it was at the heart of what would become at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.

Over a critical period beginning in mid-April, President Trump and his team convinced themselves that the outbreak was fading, that they had given state governments all the resources they needed to contain its remaining “embers” and that it was time to ease up on the lockdown.

In doing so, he was ignoring warnings that the numbers would continue to drop only if social distancing was kept in place, rushing instead to restart the economy and tend to his battered re-election hopes.

Casting the decision in ideological terms, Mr. Meadows would tell people: “Only in Washington, D.C., do they think that they have the answer for all of America.”

For scientific affirmation, they turned to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the sole public health professional in the Meadows group. A highly regarded infectious diseases expert, she was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing. The country, she insisted, was likely to resemble Italy, where virus cases declined steadily from frightening heights.

On April 11, she told the coronavirus task force in the Situation Room that the nation was in good shape. Boston and Chicago are two weeks away from the peak, she cautioned, but the numbers in Detroit and other hard-hit cities are heading down.

A sharp pivot soon followed, with consequences that continue to plague the country today as the virus surges anew.

Even as a chorus of state officials and health experts warned that the pandemic was far from under control, Mr. Trump went, in a matter of days, from proclaiming that he alone had the authority to decide when the economy would reopen to pushing that responsibility onto the states. The government issued detailed reopening guidelines, but almost immediately, Mr. Trump began criticizing Democratic governors who did not “liberate” their states.

Mr. Trump’s bet that the crisis would fade away proved wrong. But an examination of the shift in April and its aftermath shows that the approach he embraced was not just a misjudgment. Instead, it was a deliberate strategy that he would stick doggedly to as evidence mounted that, in the absence of strong leadership from the White House, the virus would continue to infect and kill large numbers of Americans.

He and his top aides would openly disdain the scientific research into the disease and the advice of experts on how to contain it, seek to muzzle more authoritative voices like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and continue to distort reality even as it became clear that his hopes for a rapid rebound in the economy and his electoral prospects were not materializing.

Mr. Trump had missed or dismissed mounting signals of the impending crisis in the early months of the year. Now, interviews with more than two dozen officials inside the administration and in the states, and a review of emails and documents, reveal previously unreported details about how the White House put the nation on its current course during a fateful period this spring.

Key elements of the administration’s strategy were formulated out of sight in Mr. Meadows’s daily meetings, by aides who for the most part had no experience with public health emergencies and were taking their cues from the president. Officials in the West Wing saw the better-known White House coronavirus task force as dysfunctional, came to view Dr. Fauci as a purveyor of dire warnings but no solutions and blamed officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mishandling the early stages of the virus.

Dr. Birx was more central than publicly known to the judgment inside the West Wing that the virus was on a downward path. Colleagues described her as dedicated to public health and working herself to exhaustion to get the data right, but her model-based assessment nonetheless failed to account for a vital variable: how Mr. Trump’s rush to urge a return to normal would help undercut the social distancing and other measures that were holding down the numbers.

The president quickly came to feel trapped by his own reopening guidelines. States needed declining cases to reopen, or at least a declining rate of positive tests. But more testing meant overall cases were destined to go up, undercutting the president’s push to crank up the economy. The result was to intensify Mr. Trump’s remarkable public campaign against testing, a vivid example of how he often waged war with science and his own administration’s experts and stated policies.

Mr. Trump’s bizarre public statements, his refusal to wear a mask and his pressure on states to get their economies going again left governors and other state officials scrambling to deal with a leadership vacuum. At one stage, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California was told that if he wanted the federal government to help obtain the swabs needed to test for the virus, he would have to ask Mr. Trump himself — and thank him.

Not until early June did White House officials even begin to recognize that their assumptions about the course of the pandemic had proved wrong. Even now there are internal divisions over how far to go in having officials publicly acknowledge the reality of the situation.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said the president had imposed travel restrictions on China early in the pandemic, signed economic relief measures that have provided Americans with critical assistance and dealt with other issues including supplies of personal protective equipment, testing capacity and vaccine development.

“President Trump and his bold actions from the very beginning of this pandemic stand in stark contrast to the do-nothing Democrats and radical left who just complain, criticize and condemn anything this president does to preserve this nation,” he said.

At a briefing on April 10, Mr. Trump predicted that the number of deaths in the United States from the pandemic would be “substantially” fewer than 100,000. As of Saturday, the death toll stood at 139,186, the pace of new deaths was rising again and the country, logging a seven-day average of 65,790 new cases a day, had more confirmed cases per capita than any other major industrial nation.

Trump’s Choice

Even as Mr. Trump was acknowledging the need to make tough decisions, he and his aides would soon be working to do just the opposite.

The president had a decision to make.

It was the end of March and his initial, 15-day effort to slow the spread of the virus by essentially shutting down the country was expiring in days. Sitting in front of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office were Drs. Fauci and Birx, along with other top officials. Days earlier, Mr. Trump had said he envisioned the country being “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, but now he was on the verge of announcing that he would keep the country shut down for another 30 days.

“Do you really think we need to do this?” the president asked Dr. Fauci. “Yeah, we really do need to do it,” Dr. Fauci replied, explaining again the federal government’s role in making sure the virus did not explode across the country.

Mr. Trump’s willingness to go along — driven in part by grim television images of bodies piling up at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York City — was a concession that federal responsibility was crucial to defeating a virus that did not respect state boundaries. In a later Rose Garden appearance, he appeared resigned to continuing the battle.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Mr. Trump said.

But even as the president was acknowledging the need for tough decisions, he and his aides would soon be looking to do the opposite — build a public case that the federal government had completed its job and unshackle the president from ownership of the response.

The hub of the activity was the working group assembled by Mr. Meadows, who had just taken over as chief of staff.

Joe Grogan, the domestic policy adviser, had come around to Mr. Trump’s view that the reaction to the virus was overblown, a position shared at that point by Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and a frequent participant in the meetings. Russell T. Vought, the president’s acting budget director, was there to address the pandemic’s mounting costs.

Chris Liddell, a deputy chief of staff, and Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, acted as the group’s procurement and supply-chain experts.

Hope Hicks, the protector of Mr. Trump’s brand, was a regular participant. Kevin A. Hassett, a top economic adviser, came at times to help assess the numbers and also participated in a 9 a.m. meeting three times a week with Mr. Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the economic aspects of the pandemic.

Then there was Dr. Birx, the response coordinator of the coronavirus task force. Unlike Dr. Fauci, who only stopped by the White House to attend meetings, she was given an office near the Situation Room and freely roamed the West Wing, fully embracing her role as a member of the president’s team.

Key elements of the administration’s strategy were formulated out of sight in daily meetings held by the chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

By mid-April, Mr. Trump had grown publicly impatient with the stay-at-home recommendations he had reluctantly endorsed. Weekly unemployment claims made clear the economy was cratering and polling was showing his campaign bleeding support. Republican governors were agitating to lift the lockdown and the conservative political machinery was mobilizing to oppose what it saw as constraints on individual freedom.

At the meetings in Mr. Meadows’s office, the issue was clear: How much longer do we keep this up?

To answer that, they focused on two more questions: Had the virus peaked? And had the government given the states the tools they needed to manage the remaining problems?

On the first question, Dr. Birx and Mr. Hassett were optimistic: Mitigation was working, they insisted, even as many outside experts were warning that the nation would remain at great risk if it let up on social distancing and moved prematurely to reopen.

Mr. Meadows thought of himself as a data-driven decision maker, and in addition to models and infection numbers from the states and the C.D.C., they looked at traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike (the volume of cars coming in and out of New York City was down by 95.2 percent); payroll and credit card data, and the number of people who were reporting to have self-quarantined.

If the point was to sustain a monthlong lockdown, the numbers told them, the administration succeeded. If it was to squelch the virus to containable levels, later events would show the officials were oblivious to how widely it was already spreading.

The members of his group believed they had succeeded on the second question, too, although shortages of protective gear continued in some places (and would flare again months later).

A one-time anticipated shortage of more than 100,000 ventilators had been overcome; now there was enough of a surplus that the United States could lend them to other countries. A ban on elective surgeries meant there was plenty of bed space — and no more need for the Navy’s hospital ships.

The group thought governors should no longer have trouble getting what they needed for hospitals, doctors and first responders. And they grew increasingly frustrated by what they saw as politically motivated complaining about a lack of federal help and the inability of some states to make effective use of the supplies they were receiving.

Enraged by criticism from New York’s Democratic politicians about not being able to find a shipment of ventilators from the federal government, Mr. Grogan, the domestic policy chief, angrily told Mr. Kushner that they should put more ventilators on eighteen-wheelers, drive them into New York City and invite news helicopters to record it all — just to embarrass Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On April 14, the country passed what the group saw as a milestone, administering its three millionth test. Inside the West Wing, Mr. Kushner was insistent on that point: Given their assumption that infections would not surge again until the fall, there was enough testing ability out there.

Those outside experts who disagreed were largely brushed off. In mid-April, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, urged a top administration official to embrace his call for conducting 500,000 coronavirus tests a day — far more than was happening at the time.

The official, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s testing czar, who had been delivering upbeat descriptions of the nation’s growing testing capacity, eventually conceded to Dr. Jha that his plan seemed to be needed. But he made clear the federal government was not prepared to get there quickly.

“At some point down the road,” is what Dr. Jha said Admiral Giroir told him.

“My take is that Jared Kushner believes that this is not something that the White House should get too involved in,” Dr. Jha recalled. “And then the president believes that it is better left up to the states.”

Their critics notwithstanding, White House officials came to feel that they had in fact accomplished their job: giving governors the tools they needed to deal with remaining outbreaks as infections ebbed.

The wind down of the federal government’s response would play out over the next several weeks. The daily briefings with Mr. Trump ended on April 24. The Meadows team started barring Dr. Fauci from making most television appearances, lest he go off message and suggest continued high risk from the virus.

By the beginning of May, word leaked that the daily meetings of the task force itself would be ended, though Mr. Trump, who had not been told, backpedaled after the coverage caused an uproar.

On testing, Mr. Trump shifted from stressing that the nation was already doing more than any other country to deriding its importance. By June the president was regularly making nonsensical statements like, “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”

But during the middle weeks of April the president’s decision to largely walk away from an active leadership role — and give many states permission to believe the worst of the crisis was behind them — came abruptly into public view.

On April 10, Mr. Trump declared that, in his role as something akin to a “wartime president,” it would be his decision about whether to reopen the country. “That’s my metrics,” he told reporters, pointing to his own head. “I would say without question it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

Three days later, he reiterated his responsibility. “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be,” he said.

The next day, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci presented Mr. Trump with a plan for issuing guidelines to start reopening the country at the end of the month. Developed largely by Dr. Birx and held closely by her until being presented to the president — most task force members did not see them beforehand — the guidelines laid out broad, voluntary standards for states considering how fast to come out of the lockdown.

In political terms, the document’s message was that responsibility for dealing with the pandemic was shifting from Mr. Trump to the states.

On April 16, when Mr. Trump publicly announced the guidelines, he made the message to the governors explicit.

“You’re going to call your own shots,” he said.

Birx’s Influence

Inside the White House, Dr. Birx was the chief evangelist for the idea that the threat from the virus was fading.

Unlike Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx is a strong believer in models that forecast the course of an outbreak. Dr. Fauci has cautioned that “models are only models” and that real-world outcomes depend on how people respond to calls for changes in behavior — to stay home, for example, or wear masks in public — sacrifices that required a sense of shared national responsibility.

In his decades of responding to outbreaks, Dr. Fauci, a voracious reader of political histories, learned to rely on reports from the ground. Late at night in his home office this spring, Dr. Fauci, who declined to comment for this article, dialed health officials in New Orleans, New York and Chicago, where he heard desperation unrecognizable in the more sanguine White House meetings.

Dr. Fauci had his own critics, who said he relied on anecdotes and experience rather than data, and who felt he was not sufficiently attuned to the devastating economic and social consequences of a national lockdown.

As the pandemic worsened, Dr. Fauci’s darker view of the circumstances was countered by the reassurances ostensibly offered by Dr. Birx’s data.

A renowned AIDS researcher who holds the title of “ambassador” as the State Department’s special representative for global health diplomacy, she had assembled a team of analysts who worked late nights in the White House complex, feeding her a constant stream of updated data, packaged in PowerPoint slides emailed to senior officials each day.

There were warnings that the models she studied might not be accurate, especially in predicting the course of the virus against a backdrop of evolving political, economic and social factors. Among the models Dr. Birx relied on most was one produced by researchers at the University of Washington. But when Mr. Hassett reviewed its performance by looking back on its predictions from three weeks earlier, it turned out to be hit or miss.

The authors of the University of Washington model spoke to Dr. Birx or members of her team almost daily, they said, and often cautioned that their work was only supposed to offer a snapshot based on key assumptions, like people continuing to abide by social distancing until June 1.

“We made clear that to get the epidemic under control and bring it down to effectively zero transmission required the social distancing mandates to be in place,” said Christopher J. L. Murray, the director of the modeling program. “April 22 — somewhere around that period. That’s when the tone shifted. They started to ask questions about what will be the trajectory and where with the lifting of mandates?”

Some state officials were also alarmed by the administration’s use of the University of Washington model.

Colorado health officials wrote to the administration on April 10, pleading that the White House not use the model to allocate supplies to the state, saying its predictions were rosier than the grim reality they were encountering. (When those concerns were relayed to her, Dr. Birx replied that decisions on allocating equipment were based on factors beyond the one model.)

Dr. Birx declined to be interviewed. A task force official said that she had only used the University of Washington model in a limited way and that the White House used “real data, not modeled data, to understand the pandemic in the United States.”

The official said the White House “immediately reacted to the early signs of community spread” by working with governors in the affected states.

But despite the outside warnings and evidence by early May that new infections, while down, remained higher than anticipated, the White House never fundamentally re-examined the course it had set in mid-April.

Dr. Fauci, a friend of Dr. Birx’s for 30 years, would describe her as more political than him, a “different species.” More pessimistic by nature, Dr. Fauci privately warned that the virus was going to be difficult to control, often commenting that he was the “skunk at the garden party.”

By contrast, Dr. Birx regularly delivered what the new team was hoping for.

“All metros are stabilizing,” she would tell them, describing the virus as having hit its “peak” around mid-April. The New York area accounted for half of the total cases in the country, she said. The slope was heading in the right direction. “We’re behind the worst of it.” She endorsed the idea that the death counts and hospitalization numbers could be inflated.

For Dr. Birx, Italy’s experience was a particularly telling — and positive — comparison. She routinely told colleagues that the United States was on the same trajectory as Italy, which had huge spikes before infections and deaths flattened to close to zero.

“She said we were basically going to track Italy,” one senior adviser later recalled.

Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. “We’ve hit our peak,” she would say, and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.

Dr. Birx began using versions of the phrase “putting out the embers,” wording that was later picked up by the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and by Mr. Trump himself.

By the middle of May, the task force believed that another resurgence was not likely until the fall, senior administration officials said.

The New York region appeared well on its way to driving new infections down to levels it could handle — it was the one area of the country that did resemble the Italian model. But the models and analysis embraced by the West Wing failed to account for the weakening adherence to the lockdowns across the country that began even before Mr. Trump started urging governors to “liberate” their residents from the methodical guidelines his own government had established.

Later, it was clear that states that rushed to reopen before meeting the criteria in the guidelines — like Arizona, Texas and Alabama — would have among the worst surges in new cases.

Dr. Birx’s belief that the United States would mirror Italy turned out to be disastrously wrong. The Italians had been almost entirely compliant with stay-at-home orders and social distancing, squelching new infections to negligible levels before the country slowly reopened. Americans, by contrast, began backing away by late April from what social distancing efforts they had been making, egged on by Mr. Trump.

The difference was critical. As communities across the United States raced to reopen, the daily number of daily cases barely dropped below 20,000 in early May. The virus was still circulating across the country.

Italy’s recovery curve, it turned out, looked nothing like the American one.

The Consequences

The real-world consequences of Mr. Trump’s abdication of responsibility rippled across the country.

During a briefing on April 20, Mr. Trump mocked Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a fellow Republican, for the state’s inability to find enough testing. Dr. Birx displayed maps with dozens of dots indicating labs that could help.

“He really didn’t know about the federal laboratories,” Mr. Trump told reporters with mock astonishment. “He didn’t know about it.”

But when Frances B. Phillips, the state’s deputy health secretary, reached out to one of those dots — a National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland — she was told that they were suffering from the same shortages as state labs and were not in a position to help.

“It was clear that we were on our own and we need to develop our own strategy, which is very unlike the kind of federal response in the past public health emergencies,” Ms. Phillips recalled.

In California, Mr. Newsom had already experienced firsthand the complexities of getting help from Washington.

After offering to help acquire 350,000 testing swabs during an early morning conversation with one of Mr. Newsom’s advisers, Mr. Kushner made it clear that the federal help would hinge on the governor doing him a favor.

“The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, had to call Donald Trump, and ask him for the swabs” recalled the adviser, Bob Kocher, an Obama-era White House health care official.

Mr. Newsom made the call as requested and then praised Mr. Trump that same day during a news conference where he announced the commitment, giving Mr. Trump credit for the “substantial increase in supply” headed to California.

Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami, a Republican, said that the White House approach had only one focus: reopening businesses, instead of anticipating how cities and states should respond if cases surged again.

“It was all predicated on reduction, open, reduction, open more, reduction, open,” he said. “There was never what happens if there is an increase after you reopen?”

Other nations had moved aggressively to employ an array of techniques that Mr. Trump never mobilized on a federal level, including national testing strategies and contact tracing to track down and isolate people who had interacted with newly diagnosed patients.

“These things were done in Germany, in Italy, in Greece, Vietnam, in Singapore, in New Zealand and in China,” said Andy Slavitt, a former federal health care official who had been advising the White House.

“They were not secret,” he said. “Not mysterious. And these were not all wealthy countries. They just took accountability for getting it done. But we did not do that here. There was zero chance here that we would ever have been in a situation where we would be dealing with ‘embers.’ ”

A New Surge

By early June, it was clear that the White House had gotten it wrong.

In task force meetings, officials discussed a spike in cases across the South and whether any bumps in caseloads were caused by crowded protests over the killing of George Floyd. They briefly considered if it was a fleeting side effect of Memorial Day gatherings.

They soon realized there was more at play.

Digging into new data from Dr. Birx, they concluded the virus was in fact spreading with invisible ferocity during the weeks in May when states were opening up with Mr. Trump’s encouragement and many were all but declaring victory.

With the benefit of hindsight, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, acknowledged this week in a conversation with the Journal of the American Medical Association that administration officials — himself included — severely underestimated infections in April and May. He estimated they were missing as many as 10 cases each day for every one they were confirming.

The number of new cases has now surged far higher than the previous peak of more than 36,000 a day in mid-April. On Thursday, there were more than 75,000 confirmed new cases, a record.

Mr. Trump’s disdain for testing continues to affect the country. By the middle of June, lines stretched for blocks in Phoenix and in Austin, Texas. And getting results could take a week to 10 days, officials in Texas said — effectively inviting the virus to spread uncontrollably.

Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, the top health official in North Carolina, contacted the Trump administration after a surge in June, asking the government to quickly open 100 new testing sites in her state, in addition to the 13 it was then operating.

“We will keep those 13 open for another month — you are welcome,” Dr. Cohen said, mocking the response she received.

It was a devastating situation, said Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, who watched as the Covid-19 cases at intensive care units at area hospitals jumped from three in mid-May to 185 by early July. Mr. Adler had a simple plea for the White House.

“When we were trying to get people to wear masks, they would point to the president and say, well, not something that we need to do,” he said.

Mr. Suarez expressed similar frustrations with Mr. Trump’s dismissive approach to mask wearing. “People follow leaders,” he said, before rephrasing his remarks. “People follow the people who are supposed to be leaders.”

Written by:

Michael D. Shear is a White House correspondent. He previously worked at The Washington Post and was a member of their Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. @shearm

Noah Weiland is a reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, covering health care. He was raised in East Lansing, Michigan and graduated from the University of Chicago. @noahweiland

Eric Lipton is a Washington-based investigative reporter. A three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he previously worked at The Washington Post and The Hartford Courant. @EricLiptonNYT

Maggie Haberman is a White House correspondent. She joined The Times in 2015 as a campaign correspondent and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. @maggieNYT

David E. Sanger is a national security correspondent. In a 36-year reporting career for The Times, he has been on three teams that have won Pulitzer Prizes, most recently in 2017 for international reporting. His newest book is “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age.” @SangerNYT • Facebook

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has boldly asserted his claim to be the dumbest governor in the nation. This makes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis very unhappy, as he claims that title.

Kemp suspended all local laws and orders that mandate mask-wearing as the number of coronavirus cases rise in Georgia. He “encouraged” people to wear masks, but no mandates permitted.

Bob Shepherd explains why Florida is miffed:


FROM: the law offices of A. Wayne Kerr, Esq.

TO: The State of Georgia

OK. We here in Flor-uh-duh are not happy. We’ve spent years, literally, building our reputation as the dumbest state in the union. We’ve built rope swings over pits of alligators. We’ve worn “Seriously, I have drugs” T-shirts when we were carrying drugs. We’ve organized people to shoot down hurricanes. We’ve claimed in court that we weren’t drinking and driving because we only swigged alcohol at stop signs. We’ve committed criminal assault with fried chicken. We’ve passed resolutions banning Satan from our towns. We’ve committed armed robbery with transparent bags on our heads. We’ve elected Ron DeSantis our governor. We’ve passed stand your ground laws. We’ve driven on highways with a “Car in Toe” sign in the back window. And we’ve issued an order to open all our schools to full in-person instruction on the very day that we set a national record for new cases of Covid-19.

In short, we have worked extremely hard to build the brand of Flor-uh-duh Man. Now, the state of Georgia thinks it can capriciously encroach on our brand by rescinding its order to wear masks in public during the pandemic. This cannot stand. Please cease and desist from further stupid.

Thank you.