Cupboards were Not Bare; Tests were Not Broken; and Obama Did leave Pandemic Plans

“It’s hard to overstate the contrast between Trump and Obama. You had a president who actually accepted and cultivated scientific advice.”
— Obama official Bina Venkataraman

“We had a plan and a team. The Trump White House ignored the first and disassembled the second.”
— Obama’s Ebola Czar Ron Klain

Ever since Barack Obama confronted Donald Trump at a 2011 Correspondents Dinner waving his long form birth certificate, Trump has targeted the Hawaiian-born former president for every conceivable failure. He is now indicting Obama for unspecified crimes, which his good friend Sen. Lindsay Graham and even Attorney General Bill Barr refuse to investigate, but before that he declared that Obama left the Strategic National Stockpile empty.

Strategic National Stockpile Full

In June 2016, a reporter from National Public Radio was allowed to visit the SNS, and she found the huge warehouse full of inventory worth $7 billion. There was a shortage of N-95 masks, but the Trump Administration has done nothing to alleviate this deficiency.

When VICE News visited the SNS in March 2017, its reporter also found it well stocked (including ventilators), proving that Obama and his minions had not taken things out the back door, as Trump has accused some hospitals of doing.

Requests to Increase Stockpile Ignored

Early in his tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, worried about a possible pandemic, proposed that the supplies in the SNS be increased. The Trump White House, however, rejected the request.
On January 30 and then again at a later date, Azar warned Trump about a pandemic with predictions of millions of cases and deaths. The CDC had done an 8 months-long simulation in 2019 named Crimson Contagion that should have, even earlier, alerted the White House to such a disaster.

On February 7, when Dr. Rick Bright, now removed from his post at the Center for Disease Control, warned that the supply of N-95 masks was “perilously low,” he was ignored. Recently a reporter asked Trump that why, if the SNS was empty, had he not ordered it re-stocked, the ever-evasive and dishonest Trump replied that he “had a lot going on.”

Virus Tests were Not Broken

With regard to Trump’s ignorant claim that the coronavirus tests were “broken” or “obsolete,” someone needs to inform him that this is a “novel” virus, which meant that scientists had to produce a new test to detect it. One could also ask our clueless president how a medical test could be “broken.”
The Trump administration could have bought German coronavirus tests through the World Health Organization on January 17, but it chose instead to create its own. The vials of these tests were found to be contaminated, and this set back our response to COVID-19 for weeks, which led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Secretary Azar and Dr. Anthony Fauci have confessed to this failure.

U.S. Must Triple Virus Testing

The U.S. is still not at a level of testing necessary for identifying those infected and tracing their contacts. Four Public Health School deans have urged the Trump administration to triple the number of coronavirus tests. Temple University’s Dean Laura A. Siminoff declared: “If we do not commit these resources, we will be doomed to a cycle of shut down, re-opening, resurgence of the virus and then shutting down again.”

Obama Playbook Ignored

Sen. Mitch McConnell has now recanted his earlier charge that the Obama administration left no pandemic plans. It was a 69-page document from the National Security Council entitled “Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats.”

The Playbook contained a warning about new respiratory viruses and recommended “sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers,” a unified federal response, and the use of the Defense Production Act, which Trump has only partially enacted. Obama’s Ebola Czar Ron Klain explained: “We had a plan and a team. The Trump White House ignored the first and disassembled the second.”

Sen. Obama Dedicated to Pandemic Preparedness

Trump has challenged Obama to testify in Congress, and, yes, he should come and present his pandemic bona fides. During the H5N1 epidemic in Asia, then Sen. Obama and former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on June 6, 2005. They expressed the need for “increasing international disease surveillance and stockpiling enough antiviral doses to cover high-risk populations and essential workers.”

Obama: Expeditious Action on Swine Flu

With regard to the H1N1 pandemic, commonly known as the “swine flu,” the Obama administration acted expertly and expeditiously. The effort was disciplined and science-based. The first case was reported on April 15, 2009, and on April 24, the CDC, then under competent leadership, published the genetic sequencing of the virus. On April 26, Obama declared a national health emergency.

On May 1 the Food and Drug Administration approved the first test to detect the virus, and those tests were sent to other affected nations around the world. On May 9, three weeks after the outbreak, the level of testing in the U.S. had reached 1 million. After nine months 100 million doses of a N1H1 vaccine were available.

The H1N1 pandemic lasted a year and the total U.S. deaths were 12,469. At no point in time was the pandemic politicized, and Obama refused to blame Mexico, to which the virus was traced to a hog farm.

Obama Contains Ebola Virus

In 2014, Ron Klain, who had been chief of staff for both Vice-President Gore and Biden, was appointed to head Obama’s effort to contain the deadly Ebola virus. As part of his current attack on Obama, Trump criticized Klain for not being a medical expert. Vice-President Mike Pence is now the director of the COVID-19 Task Force, and he has no medical experience, and, as former governor of Indiana, he ignored medical advice about the HIV virus.

One month after the WHO reported the first Ebola infections in West Africa, Obama sent troops and medical personnel (for a total of 10,000) in an attempt to contain the virus. The military set up two testing labs, capable of testing 100 people per day, and they also set up 17 treatment units with 100 beds. Over 200 tons of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies were also airlifted to West Africa from the United States.

Over a period of 10 months this American team succeeded in reducing the number of cases by 80 percent. Because of this herculean effort, the number of Ebola cases in the U.S. was limited to 11 with two deaths.

Of these cases, nine had contacted the disease in Africa, while two nurses became infected while taking care of Liberian national Thomas Duncan. The nurses recovered, but Duncan and Dr. Martin Salia, who had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leon and evacuated to the U.S., died horrible deaths.

Salia was a legal resident of the U.S.

There were of course criticisms of Obama’s Ebola efforts, and one of them was that he was slow to respond. However, four weeks to assemble a response team of 10,000 specialists appear miraculous rather than dilatory. Nor was Obama at fault that Thomas Duncan lied to Liberian airport officials, or that Dallas airport security allowed one of Duncan’s nurses to fly home even though she announced that she had a fever.

Trump’s Travel Ban Leaked more than Obama’s

Obama’s travel restrictions on African travel were not sufficient, but this deficiency was far less than Trump’s China travel ban, which did not cover the thousands of people arriving indirectly from China or directly from Europe where the virus was already present. Tragically, 4,000 passengers arrived from Wuhan without any screening before Trump put the ban in place.
Obama’s faults with H1N1 and Ebola pale in comparison to Trump’s on COVID-19. Trump’s downplaying of the virus, the delay in testing, and now not enough tests and tracing mean that thousands of Americans continue to die unnecessarily.

U.S. Virus Deaths Higher than Reported

Running death counts are now over 90,000, but a Harvard statistician, using the standard epidemiological assumption of “excess deaths,” has calculated that unreported fatalities may be as many as 30,000. Coronavirus deaths in New York City rose by 3,700 when probable as well as confirmed cases were added to the toll. Using the same method, health officials in Washington State have announced that they may have to add 2,000 virus fatalities.

I’m shocked that only 60 percent of those polled are dissatisfied with Trump’s handling of this crisis. In their delusions Trump supporters want liberty for some and death for others, or death for themselves as well.

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read his other columns on COVID-19 at

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