Bungled Federal Response Puts Administration at the Center of Covid-19 Cases

All signs point to an Administration overwhelmed and overmatched

When officials in California recently tested a patient with no history of travel to China, or contact with anyone at risk for infection, they identified what is potentially the first case of community transmission in the United States. Community transmission, or the spread of the disease among the general public, indicates a troubling new development in the fight to contain Covid-19 in the United States. The fact that the virus might no longer be safely contained behind quarantine lines raised alarms across the state and the country, and markets reacted swiftly with their biggest loss since 2011.

While California has for weeks hosted repatriated Covid-19 patients and evacuees from infected areas in lock down at several air force bases throughout the state, the news on Thursday of a whistle blower complaint alleging that some of the employees involved in maintaining those quarantines may have been exposed to the virus and allowed back into the community and onto commercial aircraft left observers stunned.

Federal health employees interacted with Americans quarantined for possible without proper medical training or protective gear, then scattered into the general population, according to a government whistle-blower who lawmakers say faced retaliation for reporting concerns.

The team was “improperly deployed” to two military bases in California to assist the processing of Americans who had been evacuated from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere, according to a portion of a narrative account shared with Congress and obtained by The New York Times ahead of a formal complaint to the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent government agency that handles federal whistle-blower complaints.

Reports indicate that California is now monitoring upwards of 8,400 people who were potentially exposed to the virus, though whether these cases are connected to the potential issues at the bases is unknown. Reports emerged on Thursday of three UC Davis students are also currently being monitored and tested. The bungling of official quarantines at military sites has the potential to fuel hundreds if not thousands of cases, and threatens to blow open a public health crisis that the US had managed to keep at bay. Suddenly, the opposition of cities like Costa Mesa and communities throughout the country to housing patients under Federal quarantine seems less like paranoia.

Critiques of the Administration’s response have ranged from questions of too little funding, to the refusal to appoint a czar followed by the choice to put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the effort despite his questionable track record on responding to public health issues.

California has long gone it alone rather than rely on the Trump Administration. The Golden State has spent the last four years forging its own path on climate change, immigration reform, and environmental protections. The City of San Francisco preemptively declared an emergency, as did Orange County, in an effort to accelerate their ability to respond if and when cases emerge. But no matter how many precautions California takes, its ability to protect itself and its residents from the Trump Administration’s poor handling of the response is imperfect.

If it turns out that a bungled Federal response is the ultimate cause of widespread transmission of the coronavirus on US soil, then Trump is patient zero.

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