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My Point of View: Delayed U.S. response will cost thousands of lives

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson


Coronavirus has come to Freeborn County. The 50-state disaster is here.

John Forman’s apologia for Trump in this column last week is already flotsam on the tide of Trump’s ineptitude and COVID-19’s overwhelming toll. Yes, COVID-19 really will be orders of magnitude worse than H1N1. U.S. deaths had already reached 5,000 at the time of this writing and could surpass 10,000 by printing. Trump has conceded that 200,000 Americans may perish.

Thus, current widespread shutdowns are not the folly of “short memories”; they are a product of scientific engagement and rational response. The U.S. response was delayed, though, and that will cost thousands of additional Americans their precious and only lives.

Why did Trump and FOX News downplay the threat of COVID-19 for so long?
One, Trump was grievously unprepared. Besides disbanding the Pandemic Response Team in 2017, Trump whittled down CDC staff inside China — experts on the ground who monitor and respond to epidemics — from 47 to 14. The Trump administration also failed to resupply and maintain federal stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and ventilators.

Two, Trump focused on the stock market. He’d been coasting along on Obama’s economic recovery and a sugar high from Republicans’ corporate tax break in 2017 (which enriched private stockholders and mushroomed public deficits). His No. 1 priority was corporate profits rather than public health.

The stock market will recover, but lost lives are lost forever. Three, Trump had flights of fancy about how the virus would behave. He gambled it would dissipate in warm weather before the death toll mounted.
Trump was still thinking magically when he suggested on March 24 that worshipers could pack churches on Easter Sunday, a scenario that would allow the virus to commit a veritable mass murder of Christians. It’s shockingly unsound judgement despite experts like Dr. Fauci bluntly refuting him.

Fourth, Trump is incapable of leading a coordinated national response. He told governors to bid against each other for PPEs and ventilators, and then federal agencies bid against them as well. This inflates prices and is much less efficient than the federal government procuring the supplies and sending them where needed.
Trump also said governors who aren’t “appreciative” of him shouldn’t call the White House with requests for their states. Do patients who can’t breathe have time for Trump’s impeachable quid pro quo demands? No.

We are fortunate to have a competent state government led by Tim Walz. In contrast, Ron DeSantis didn’t shut down Florida until after legions of spring breakers had flooded its beaches, and Georgia’s Brian Kemp claims he didn’t learn until last week that COVID-19 can spread asymptomatically.

Besides the impending health crisis, I’m nervous about the impact of lost wages on our local economy.

Democrats in Congress sprinted to push aid to workers and small businesses, while Republicans catered to the biggest at the trough. Steve Mnuchin, who profited from people losing their homes in the mortgage crisis, was the White House’s lead negotiator. He and other Republicans focused on pumping billions into corporations and large real estate holders, including the Trump-Kushners.

As for oversight, Trump said the special inspector general for the bailout wouldn’t testify to Congress without White House approval. Four of eight inspector general offices in departments disbursing the bailout funds — including Treasury — have acting heads instead of permanent ones confirmed by the Senate.

Millionaire Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler chose to protect their stock portfolios from COVID-19 instead of warning the public of its danger. They both dumped stocks, and Loeffler invested in companies that make work-from-home software and medical garments.
Criminal behavior and blinded oversight cannot be normalized. Corruption is not just immoral, it’s grossly inefficient. COVID-19 lays that as bare as anything can, and it hurts regular folks like us in Freeborn County the worst.

In these times we are pulling together. Community members are sewing masks, delivering meals and checking on one another. I wholeheartedly agree with John Forman on one thing — if you can, please continue financially supporting your church and/or any other institutions you are part of. Please be intentional about supporting local businesses rather than going straight to Amazon. Help stop the virus from spreading here, but keep money circulating.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.