Politicians on the right made a pragmatic political calculation: A media incapable of sophisticated thought would never forgive them if they made a reasonable bet in favor of policy modesty and it backfired.
Conservatives aren’t wrong about the media’s general inability to process multiple variables, to judge from the way President Trump is scored for a national death toll primarily attributable to New York, whose Democratic governor somehow has managed to emerge from this situation as a hero. Hence the right has uncomfortably embraced draconian interventions, especially in Mr. Trump’s America and Boris Johnson’s U.K.
Meanwhile the left in most developed countries has settled on an embrace of progressive authoritarianism over the interests of what used to be its electoral base among normal working people.
Someone who had specific information that the CDC did not was Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an expert in infectious diseases in Seattle. In an excellent New York Times news story on March 10, reporters Sheri Fink and Mike Baker tell the tragic tale. As a result of her months-long research in the flu, Dr. Chu and her colleagues had a collection of nasal swabs from people experiencing symptoms. She spent weeks trying to get permission from state and federal officials to test the swabs for the coronavirus. They turned her down. The CDC told her on February 16 that if she wanted to use her test as a screening tool, she would need permission from the Food and Drug Administration. But because of regulations put in place by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the FDA could not approve. Finally on February 25, in desperation, she and her colleagues did the tests without approval. And bingo: she found a positive test for a teenager who had not recently traveled. But for the regulation, she could have known this weeks earlier. And did the FDA see the error of its ways and give her credit? No. Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington state’s epidemiologist for communicable diseases, says, “What they [the CDC and the FDA] said on that phone call very clearly was cease and desist to Helen Chu. Stop testing.”
Tragically, the CDC’s own tests didn’t work, thus losing Americans a crucial few weeks.
But a potential for crisis is not limited to the unnecessary costs and health equipment bottlenecks that Trump’s trade war with China has created. His continued mistreatment of many trading partners, imposition of tariffs and threats of tariffs on their exports, may make it difficult now to get new sources of supplies. Even allies are now lashing out and restricting the flow of medical equipment outside of their borders, including to the United States.
President Trump should immediately admit to the problem his policies have created. His administration should permanently and comprehensively suspend the trade war tariffs on critical medical products from China. And with its former allies, the administration should reverse its isolationist approach and reinvigorate the international cooperation that had formed the basis of US policy for over 70 years.