If you have a suspicious mind (like I do), you have entertained the thought that the last-minute addition of the pandemic, already discussed in the first debate, is a way to make sure that a subject on which the President is perceived as weak gets more time in the spotlight.
The infuriating irony is that, as pathologist Roger D. Klein, a former adviser to CDC, FDA, and HHS, observes today in City Journal, the administration’s response to the pandemic was actually pretty good. President Trump is likely the least-best spokesman for himself on this, notes Klein:
Trump’s unconventional style and inherent inability to avoid the spotlight, coupled with the Food and Drug Administration’s initial overregulation and the Centers for Disease Control’s early underperformance, have made him a ready target. But Trump’s application of targeted regulatory relief and financial incentives stimulated an unprecedented private-sector response to the pandemic, more than compensating for these preliminary mishaps. A closer look at the administration’s record reveals a much more successful response to Covid than critics are willing to acknowledge.
The President’s critics use cherry picked data to make his response to the virus look bad:
The president’s detractors selectively use inter-country comparisons of case and death numbers to disparage the U.S. response, but these numbers are subject to many variables—known and unknown—and are unreliable when a pandemic is ongoing.
Many metrics gauge response effectiveness. The U.S. case fatality rate, for instance, compares favorably with that of other Western countries. The United States is a large, heterogeneous country. The performance of Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and Maine ranks among the best in the developed world on deaths per million population, while New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut rank among the worst. Other countries use different measures of counting cases, infections, and even deaths, hindering accurate comparison.
The administration is routinely attacked on the basis of our capacity to test. Klein offers this observation:
The United States expanded testing through regulatory reform and payment incentives. We have performed over 125 million tests and are now administering more than 1 million tests per day. The FDA’s enhanced regulatory efficiency has resulted in the authorization of more than 250 new tests for diagnosis of acute infection and prior exposure, for use in central laboratories and at the point of care. The administration is distributing 150 million rapid diagnostic tests to nursing homes, extended living facilities, historically black colleges, and states, which will help contain outbreaks among vulnerable populations. These tests will also help limit local spread in schools and businesses, allowing them to remain open, and will bring testing capacity up to 3 million tests per day—half of them rapid tests.
Operation Warped Speed will likely give us a vaccine in record time. Klein notes:
Multiple vaccine candidates are rapidly moving toward implementation, with five companies in late-stage trials and three leading candidates likely to report results soon. Operation Warp Speed is compressing the usual new-vaccine implementation time from over ten years to a matter of months. The U.S. has made investments in technology, manufacturing capacity, and clinical studies; carefully selected candidate vaccines and platforms; increased regulatory flexibility; and encouraged concurrent performance of steps that have historically been taken in sequence. It’s unprecedented for any national system to have accelerated the development of a vaccine to this point in so short a time.
The President’s critics have responded by politicizing the vaccine. This is an insult not only to the President but to the scientists who are working on the vaccine.
Causing much pearl clutching among the shutdown crowd (mostly affluent people who think the hardest thing about the shutdown is finding recipes in the New York Times to alleviate their boredom), President Trump is trying hard to re-open the nation, including schools, before our losses are irreparable.
It is very possible that candidate Joe Biden will “win” the COVID segment of the debate tonight by bragging that he has “a plan.” With the forces arrayed against the President and his own proclivity towards bombast, Biden is likely to come across to many Americans as better to cope with the virus.
Meanwhile, there are some countries of which Mr. Trump is not President that nevertheless seem to be on the verge of a second wave of the virus. A CNBC story praises these afflicted countries for the measures they are taking. President Trump rarely gets fairness, much less praise.