Crimson Contagion

“Crimson Contagion”: Contrary To What The President Has Said, This WAS Predicted


Leonard Zwelling

         The front-page story in The New York Times on March 20 describes the fact that some members of the executive branch of the federal government do have imaginations. They gamed out the threat of a new virus arising in China and spreading to the United States. Their predictions were for 110 million Americans to be infected, 7.7 million hospitalized, and 586,000 dead. This scenario was called “Crimson Contagion” and it was a product of the Trump Administration. That’s the same administration whose leader keeps saying “no one ever thought of this.” Yes, they did. Your people did.

         The draft report of October 2019 basically predicted what is happening now. The U.S. was underfunded, underprepared, and under-coordinated in its response to a potential outside threat of infection. And this was not the first such exercise run in the federal government. It was the third in four years in both the Obama and the Trump Administrations.

         In 2017, the Obama Administration, on its way out, ran such a drill for the in-coming members of Mr. Trump’s team. Of course, most of the Trump team that was trained by the Obama team (e.g., Flynn, Kelly, Tillerson, Perry, et al) have been fired or left.

         The point is a simple one. Once again, the president is lying. Someone has thought of this before. Some of those people work for him.

         It was Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser who asked Tom Bossert, her counterpart in the in-coming Trump Administration, to run the training event with her in 2017. He took it quite seriously, The Times says. Unfortunately, all those Trump folks were gone when the coronavirus threat ensued and the new folks clearly weren’t ready. They still aren’t.

         Despite the doubters out there who don’t think this is a real crisis and it’s just the flu in another guise, most of the people who I respect (Fauci, Hahn, Cuomo) believe otherwise and are begging the country to take the president’s 15-day precautions to heart and use social distancing, hand washing and good sense. They also doubt this will be unnecessary after 15 days, but restrictions will be in place far longer, despite what Mr. Trump would like. It is unlikely that the churches will be full on Easter. Seders may be smaller this year.

         This blog is not going to relitigate the issue of whether or not this is real. It is simply to point out that members of both the Obama and Trump Administrations HAD considered this scenario and had done so multiple times. Despite that, despite the fact that at least some had the imagination to concoct a scenario not so different from the one we face now, the executive branch was caught flat-footed, while the Republican senators were breaking the law by selling stocks after confidential briefings about what the virus would do to the markets. If the reports of this are true, they ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

         While state and local governments have struggled mightily with the challenge of the coronavirus, having to make life- and economy-altering decisions about what to do in response, the federal government has been and continues to play catch up.

         Mr. Trump is facing his first real challenge as president. Everything before this has been small stuff. George W. Bush had to decide about embryonic stem cell research in 2001. That was August. He became more occupied a few weeks later. It happens to every president and every administration.

         This crisis is not over. Maybe the mitigation steps will prevent the United States from having an experience similar to the one in Italy. A huge chart on page A15 of Friday’s Times shows the effects of the virus in different countries. The take home for me was that mitigation and suppression (Taiwan, Singapore) work so what is being proposed for the U.S. does make sense to me. Containment would have been better and that still might be needed in San Francisco, Seattle and New York. For now, the best that most of the country can do is to obey the president’s request to follow his 15-day plan. We will reassess then.

         We also have to consider the cost of all this to the economy and to the lives of real people. I hope we don’t get down to a choice where we have to calculate the quality of life year cost for America, but it’s getting scary on Main Street. Businesses cannot close indefinitely and older Americans like me can shelter in place just so long while the young follow the restrictions of social distancing, but carry on some business. This is not the type of recession from which we can readily bounce back, because the jobs are going away.

         It is clear that the executive branch of the federal government, the FDA, the CDC and both HHS and DHS were not ready for this. They weren’t ready despite the fact that they had warnings and drills on this very subject. The Trump Administration cannot evade responsibility for having a poor response to this predicted crisis. This was not like 9/11 where the signs were missed. They were not. They were just ignored.

Also: Please see Dr. Kantarjian’s and my newest post on the Baker Institute blog:

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