There are 1,000 fewer FEMA employees assigned to support COVID-19 work than there were at the peak of the agency’s response. What's going on here?
FEMA says there are 1,000 fewer employees assigned to COVID-19 work than during the peak of the response — and that’s not all
And in May, an administration official, Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk,saidthere were plans to wind down Project Airbridge, which coordinated imports of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies from overseas to meet rising demand in the U.S. But the demand for PPE has not vanished — if anything, it’s gone up. “We need high quality masks for the public and for people in specific industries to use,” Dr. Toner says. “Whether anybody is actually working on that is not apparent at this point.”
HHS Sec. Azar said on Friday that the administration had “dramatically expanded American manufacturing of PPE” in recent months. Still, state officials say there is more the federal government can do. On Monday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican,
the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to ensure that there is sufficient PPE available with infections spiking again.Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, toldRolling Stonein May that governors on both sides of the aisle had felt like the federal government gave them little help when it came to acquiring PPE or testing materials. Hogan, for his part, resorted to negotiating his own deal with a South Korean manufacturer to purchase 500,000 test kits. “It was a unique period in time where the federal government left it up to the states in many ways, and said to a certain extent, ‘You’re on your own, and go out and get it done,’” Hogan recalls. (The Task Force official said the White House had supported states by developing its COVID-19 testing blueprint and helping them procure PPE.)
But Hogan insisted that the federal government can take on certain roles far more efficiently than individual states can. “On testing, on PPE, maybe even on contract tracing — all these kind of building blocks that we need to get our economy back on track — those are things that we have been doing at the state level, but where the federal government could have played and can still play more of a role,” Hogan said.
Dr. Tom Frieden, the former CDC director, says the CDC may have taken a secondary role at the national level, but still deploys experts into states dealing with outbreaks and issues guidance that reflects the latest data and science. Dr. Hotez, the Baylor vaccine expert, echoes this, saying what he’s seen of the federal response tends to be more specific interventions for, say, meatpacking plants or cruise ships.
The centerpiece of the federal response right now is Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to develop a vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021. But even if a vaccine does come to market on that accelerated timetable, it’s quite possible that an early COVID-19 vaccine is 60 to 70% effective like a typical flu shot, not 90 to 95% effective like the measles vaccine. There’s no guarantee that all Americans will agree to be vaccinated, with one-third of respondents in
a recent CNN pollsaying they would not.Dr. Rich Besser, the former acting CDC chief, says the administration’s emphasis on finding a vaccine can create an unrealistic impression that everything will go back to normal once a vaccine finally arrives. “That’s the plotline from the movie
Contagionwhere in the last 20 minutes there’s a vaccine and everyone can get back to their normal life,” he says. “That’s not how science works.”As the frightening surge in new infections escalates, senior administration officials have begun to change their tune. Sec. Azar
toldCNN last weekend that the “window is closing” to get the pandemic under control. Pence urged Americans to “wear a mask” this weekend after declining to directly do so in last Friday’s briefing. Yet by all indications, that newfound sense of urgency has not reached the president.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, toldRolling Stonethat the U.S. needs a World War II-style national mobilization to defeat the virus. Trump’s denial, Inslee said, “is akin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on December 8th, 1941, and for months thereafter, to say that Pearl Harbor was a hoax and that the battleships weren’t important and that the Japanese were going to surrender miraculously the next Monday.” He adds, “If you can imagine Roosevelt doing that, we’ve had an equivalent of that in response to this existential crisis.”
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