If we’d had to lay a bet on which Republican senator would be the first to blame the Trump administration for the federal response to the coronavirus, we would have cleaned up quite nicely on Tuesday. It was no surprise whatsoever to see Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) further his new career of criticizing President Trump and using a potentially devastating pandemic to do so.
At a private briefing on Capitol Hill with senior administration officials, Romney said that the administration was not ready for the spread of this virus.
“I’m very disappointed in the degree to which we’ve prepared for a pandemic, both in terms of protective equipment and in terms of medical devices that would help people once they are infected,” he said. “At this stage, I think we are substantially underinvesting in what would be appropriate for a setting which could be serious.”
Romney said that while he is still optimistic that a worst-case scenario can be avoided, “we don’t know what the future holds.”
“I think,” he said, “we should be pulling out all the stops.”
As much as we’re rolling our eyes about Romney being the one to take this position, he’s not entirely wrong. This was the week where COVID-19 went from a sidebar story to the top of the front page, and things are…not looking good. President Trump and his top officials are doing everything they can to prevent panic and slow the stock market massacre that started on Monday, but in this case, we can’t quite buy into the rose-colored view of the world.
57 cases in the U.S. so far. That doesn’t sound like a lot, to be sure. But it may be enough to turn this into a spreading virus that will infect a very large percentage of the population. This thing is not contained, a vaccine could be more than a year away, and we’re talking about a disease that is, in some cases, completely asymptomatic. Several people on that quarantined cruise ship told health officials that they felt fine and dandy; they still tested positive for the disease.
This leaves us open to the very real possibility that “57 cases” could be a dramatic undercount.
On Tuesday, Nancy Messonnier of the CDC sounded an alarming note when she spoke of how this disease will turn into a national pandemic.
“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she said. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”
Trump is doing the right thing by presenting an aura of calm and control to the American people; certainly, nothing will be made better by a mass freakout. But we do hope that, behind closed doors, the federal government is treating this situation with the extraordinary gravitas required. This is not the time to drop the ball.