Just a month ago, experts were predicting that the American economy would be slow to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment remains at record highs, but, as the country begins to reopen, federal policies that have bolstered small businesses and bailed out big ones seem to have helped avoid another Great Depression. John Cassidy joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss how good news about the economy complicates Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump.
WASHINGTON – Governors’ warnings of life-threatening shortages of ventilators have emerged as a flashpoint between President Donald Trump and the states as the coronavirus crisis deepens.
“Some states have more ventilators than they need,” Trump told a news briefing Saturday. “They don’t even like to admit it. They’ll admit it when everything’s over but that doesn’t help us very much.“
Governors in hard-hit states like New York, Michigan and Louisiana say doctors could be forced to make life or death decisions about who will get ventilators and who won’t if hospitals starting running out of the machines when the peak of the crisis hits.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said his state is expected to exhaust its supply of ventilators by April 6. Though Louisiana has received some ventilators from the national stockpile, Edwards said his state still needs thousands more.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has estimated his state will need as many as 30,000 ventilators and could start facing shortages by the middle of next week.
Cuomo dismissed the suggestion that he was overstating the needs. He said New York was prepared to pay for 17,000 ventilators it had ordered on its own but didn’t get them because of competing demands.
“We were not looking to spend a penny that we didn’t have to spend,” Cuomo said.
Wartime powers: Trump hasn’t ordered any ventilators from GM, despite saying he was using his authority to force production
US coronavirus map: Tracking the outbreak
The tensions between the governors and the Trump administration grew this week when Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law, referred to the federal stockpile of medical supplies as “our stockpile.”
“It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” he said.
Trump has said the federal government is ready to help the states but needs the “flexibility of moving the ventilators” to virus hot spots. He and his aides say the administration will mobilize the equipment to areas where it’s most needed days in advance but they’re also urging states to tap their own stockpiles and do what they can to obtain their own supplies.
Several governors want the federal government to use its clout to buy more ventilators. The Federal Emergency Management Agency could then distribute to states in the greatest need, the governors argue.
“Why would you create a situation where the 50 states are competing with each other and then the federal government, FEMA, comes in and competes with the rest of it?” Cuomo asked.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have also expressed frustration over competing against one another – and the federal government – in bidding for supplies in the private market, which has led to price-gouging.
So how many ventilators are likely to be needed, how many are there now and why are they in such short supply? Here’s an overview of what led to the problems and the debate over how to solve them.
How many ventilators are available?
Trump has declared the U.S would produce 100,000 ventilators in 100 days and told reporters Thursday that 11 companies were behind the effort to expedite production. While General Motors and Ford have said they would manufacture ventilators, it wasn’t immediately clear what other companies were producing the machines.
Most of the 100,000 ventilators Trump promised to have by June will not be available until the end of the month at the earliest, FEMA officials told the House Oversight Committee this week.
FEMA said there were just 9,500 ventilators in the national stockpile, with about 3,200 expected to be added by the week of April 13, according to documents from the agency released by the committee’s Democrats.
The U.S. coronavirus crisis is projected to peak by the middle of April, when nearly 32,000 ventilators will be needed to address the outbreak, according to data from the Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
FEMA acknowledges “that the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) alone could not fulfill all requirements at the State and tribal level” in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” according to an agency spokesperson.
FEMA officials have told the House Oversight Committee the demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the national stockpile as well as the 1,065 machines donated by the Department of Defense.
As of April 2, FEMA officials have shipped 8,100 ventilators from the national stockpile, a FEMA spokesperson said, adding that the agency is expediting critical medical supplies from the global market to medical distributors across the country.
Six flights carrying medical supplies from Asia have arrived in the U.S. since March 29, including two flights that arrived Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, early on Friday, according to the FEMA spokesperson. The agency has scheduled 27 additional flights through April 18.
The medical supplies will be given first to medical distributors in areas of greatest need and the remainder “will be infused into the broader U.S. supply chain,” the FEMA spokesperson said.
FEMA also points to the $16 billion allocated to build up the stockpile in the $2 trillion-dollar stimulus package passed by Congress last week that will help address the shortage.
Why is there a shortage?
The Strategic National Stockpile, which is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, consists of several secretly located warehouses across the U.S. that contain emergency medical supplies.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who served as health secretary under former President George W. Bush and oversaw the outbreaks of anthrax, SARS, and Monkeypox, said the number of warehouses was expanded to 12 from eight after the 9/11 attacks.
Thompson, who said he offered a federal plan for preparation for a pandemic before he left office, said Congress failed to appropriate funding to replenish the depleted stockpiles over the years.
“They were maintained, but they were not expanded,” he told USA TODAY. “I think it was lack of attention. I don’t think you blame the governors, I don’t think you blame the president, I think that everybody neglected filling these sites with what was needed.”
Greg Burel, who served as head of the SNS for more than 12 years before he retired in January, said the stockpile was not initially designed for pandemic influenza but Congress began investing funds in preparation for such an event in the early 2000s.
“We always knew that even then, it wasn’t as much as some of the models suggested we would need if it was a 1918 sort of an event,” he said, referring to the flu pandemic of 1918. “Even with the pandemic influenza money, it was going to be almost impossible fiscally, to stockpile our way out of that kind of a problem.”
Burel added that Congress never saw fit to fund the replacement of materials exhausted during the the 2009 flu epidemic, which played a hand in today’s unfolding coronavirus crisis. He added that local and state health departments lack the funding needed and the private health care supply chain operates in “just-in-time” basis that hinders any sort of wide-scale response to a pandemic.
‘We’re not an ordering clerk’
Trump has said federal government’s stockpile can help the country through the crisis but has also criticized states for having ‘insatiable appetites’ for equipment and not doing enough to build their own supplies.
“States should have been building their stockpiles,” he added. “We’re a back-up, we’re not an ordering clerk,” he said.
But the existence of the stockpile is aimed directly at helping states, according to Josh Gotbaum, a former assistant secretary of defense for economic security and executive associate director for Office of Management and Budget under former President Bill Clinton.
“The whole purpose of emergency stockpiles is to protect the nation in an emergency. Even if the stockpiles are inadequate, they still must be used for the entire nation,” he said. “It’s not to make sure there’s enough ventilators for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The Defense Department already takes care of that.”
Coronavirus: Will I get a check? Where do I find peanut butter? What crisis-hit Americans are asking lawmakers amid coronavirus
Cuomo said Friday the government should send more ventilators and medical supplies that New York could then redeploy to other hard-hit localities where demand is surging.
“What is the alternative to the crisis that we see looming nationwide?” he said. “New York is in crisis. Help New York and then pick up the camp and go to the next place as this rolls across the country.”
Thompson said while Cuomo and other governors are rightly focused on their states, Trump has to assess where the life-saving machines are needed most across the country.
“The stockpiles are federal…the president is responsible for all the states,” Thompson said. “So he’s got to make that tough decision.”
Can Trump use wartime powers to get more ventilators?
Trump has shown ambivalence about use the full authority of the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to compel private companies to make ventilators, masks and other equipment. He has at times likened the wartime authority to nationalization of private industry and invoked Venezuela’s economy as an example of the dangers of the approach.
While Trump announced a week ago that he was activating the DPA to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus, the administration had not formally ordered any machines as of Thursday, USA TODAY has learned.
Trump this week announced a fresh request to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to use the act for several other companies, including General Electric, Hill-Rom Holdings, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical.
But the latest order provided no more detail on how the government would compel those companies to make ventilators than the order targeted at General Motors. The order also did not clarify how many ventilators the administration is requesting.
A Guide to the Economics and Politics of the Coronavirus Recovery – The New Yorker
Keep Politics Out of Reopening Houses of Worship – The New York Times
More from our inbox:
To the Editor:
Re “Firing Salvo in Culture Wars, Trump Wants Churches Open” (front page, May 23):
Last Friday was not the first time we have witnessed a politician attempting to ingratiate himself with faith communities. Through the years, leaders from both major political parties have sought the support of houses of worship in their electoral campaigns.
Certainly those of us who devote our lives to religious leadership would like to consider our work “essential.” And we eagerly await the day when we can welcome our congregants back to their spiritual homes. While we can pray to God anywhere at any time alone or with others, and while the internet has provided a viable and meaningful vehicle for gathering our members in this time of physical distancing, nothing could ever replace the power of in-person congregational worship.
But religious communities must not become political pawns for a president seeking to placate his evangelical base. In Judaism, the saving of life supersedes all other religious responsibilities. The decision whether or not to reopen houses of worship belongs in the hands of local authorities alone, guided by health concerns, not political ones.
Joshua M. Davidson
The writer is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.
To the Editor:
The cynicism of President Trump’s call to governors to open the churches is staggering. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every day. I have always loved the ritual of the Mass, and I rejoice and celebrate as I gather with friends old and new who enrich my life. I will return joyfully to my church when our governor deems it safe to do so, not when it is politically expedient for our president.
John T. Dillon
West Caldwell, N.J.
To the Editor:
President Trump asks all governors to immediately open up churches and allow in-person worship — without testing. Yet everyone who meets with Mr. Trump must first be tested.
So, what’s good for the gander ain’t good for the goose. If he truly believes that in-person worship is safe, let’s see him go to these churches (or restaurants or theaters) without testing — and let’s see him mingle with the folks not wearing masks.
Marc R. Stanley
Which Is the Better Bridge: The Brooklyn or the George Washington?
To the Editor:
Re “The Star of the City Sells Itself,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, Arts pages, May 7):
OK, the Brooklyn Bridge is wholly in New York City and joins two of its boroughs. And it was something of an engineering achievement. Book after book has been written about it; it appears in a wealth of movies.
But the great bridge in the New York area is the George Washington.
When I sought to read a book on the George, I discovered that there were none. Participating in a symposium at Columbia University on American icons, and listening to others drone on about the Brooklyn, I asked “What about the George?” There was complete silence. Then one participant said, to almost universal laughter, “But look where it goes,” the suggestion being that since the George crosses to New Jersey, it couldn’t possibly be important.
The George is also the gateway to Interstate 80, on which one may travel in a straight line to San Francisco. New Yorkers think of themselves as sophisticated compared with New Jerseyans, but they can often be decidedly parochial.
Michael Aaron Rockland
The writer is the author of “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel” and a professor of American studies at Rutgers.
Face masks now define a divided America and its politics – The Globe and Mail
The U.S. election of 1860 was fought over the future of slavery in the United States. The 1932 election over how to respond to the Great Depression. The 1980 election over the role of government in the economy. The 2020 election is shaping up as a fight over whether Americans should wear a protective mask.
In competing images on one of America’s most sacred moments of civic reflection, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joined a Memorial Day commemoration this week wearing a mask, while, 175 kilometres away, President Donald Trump attended a separate remembrance unencumbered by a face covering.
Mr. Trump has mocked Mr. Biden for wearing a mask. Mr. Biden called Mr. Trump “an absolute fool” for refusing to do so.
And so it is that today a simple but divisive public-health measure defines America and its politics.
“The people who are not wearing masks are by and large white, male, rural, suburban and right-leaning,’’ said online pollster John Dick, whose CivicScience public-opinion firm has examined Americans’ social, cultural and political attitudes during the pandemic. “They are the same people who voted for Trump. It is a big middle finger to everyone they resent. I’m convinced that the people who support Trump don’t even really like him that much. They just hate the people who hate Trump.”
In 1768, John Dickinson, the Philadelphia lawyer known as the penman of the American Revolution, took a Royal Navy anthem and grafted onto it his objections to British colonial taxes and eight words that in time became an American aphorism: “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.’’
Two and a half centuries later – after Kentucky transformed that phrase into its state motto, after the patriot orator Patrick Henry employed it in his final public speech, after Abraham Lincoln borrowed it for a famous speech and after the group Brotherhood of Man made it into a 1970s pop hit – the country Dickinson’s revolution created seems hopelessly divided.
Today Americans are split over whether to reopen the country to commerce. The states are divided over how swiftly to resume normal economic activity, with the Democratic governors of the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin opting to go slowly. Mr. Dick believes that what he calls “political tribalism” is the “most powerful force in America right now – because it predicts almost everything.” And pollster John Zogby sees the fall election as a contest between “rage” and “empathy.”
In that contest, Mr. Trump personifies rage and Mr. Biden empathy – and in that regard masks are a powerful symbol.
“You don’t wear your mask out of fear, you wear it out of empathy,” said Christine Whalen, a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Human Ecology. “Those masks aren’t protecting you, they’re protecting others. But if we all wear them, we all are protected.”
Mr. Zogby points out that Democratic candidates who have won in the past half-century – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have been empathy candidates, projecting “an everyman image of understanding pain and suffering,” while those who have lost – Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton – were nominees who “projected images of elitism and/or technocratic management over bonding.”
The very qualities Mr. Biden personifies are the ones Democrats hope will prevail this autumn. The very qualities Mr. Trump personifies are the ones that triumphed four years ago.
Meanwhile, the pandemic and the two men’s responses – with Mr. Biden instinctively leaning toward the views of conventional experts and Mr. Trump instinctively taking an iconoclastic approach – provide a glimpse of the campaign to come.
Five times as many Republicans as Democrats are ready to return to normal daily activities, according to CivicScience surveys. Democrats are more than three times more likely to say they will remain in quarantine even if their state or local governments allow a return to normal.
Wearing a mask may be a telling symbol of the two candidates’ outlooks but it is not an infallible guide to political affiliation. Though a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this month said 89 per cent of Democrats but only 58 per cent of Republicans reported wearing a mask most of the time when outside their homes, two top Republican leaders in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his likely successor, John Cronyn, were seen in masks this week.
“Wearing a face covering is not about politics – it’s about helping other people,” Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said via Twitter this week.
In the last mass domestic challenge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt combined rage (“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization”) and empathy (“We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well”) in the very same speech. It was his first Inaugural Address, in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, and is considered one of his greatest speeches – and he is considered the chief executive against whom all successors are measured.
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