America’s lack of pandemic preparedness is unforgivable

There’s no way around it. This administration’s lack of preparedness and, in some cases, willful denial of facts has cost American lives.

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White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing

“With all of these failings coming to light — and surely there are more to come,” writes S.E. Cupp, “Trump has tried to dodge accountability at every turn.”

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In the movies, this all goes very differently. In Hollywood’s version of events, the federal government had been building a secret bunker in the limestone cliffs of Missouri to house a million people in the expectation of an extinction-level-event.

Or the entire executive and legislative branches were relocated to an underground facility in Virginia where continuity of government could be preserved, and, I suppose, lawmakers weren’t still using the public gym during a pandemic.

Even in the all-too-real scripted version of coronavirus-the-movie, “Contagion,” the CDC has identified a stadium that can be turned into a triage facility — on Day 12 of the outbreak.

If only this were one of those movies.

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As we try to adjust to a total stoppage of life as we know it due to the spread of COVID-19, the lack of preparedness by the federal government is utterly and indefensibly unfathomable.

We’ve watched the president of the United States first dismissing the severity of the crisis, his own experts contradicting him publicly; confusion over the responsibilities of the federal government versus individual states; governors fighting with the White House for supplies; a shortage of personal protective equipment for our doctors on the front lines; hospitals overwhelmed with patients; Congress playing politics with relief funding.

How could one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on the planet be this behind the curve?

From the simplest of tools — like a disaster supply chain org chart — to the most complex and sophisticated pandemic readiness plans, it seems as though the United States had next to nothing in place.

And even more galling, there were too many warnings to count.

Starting way back in 2005, the George W. Bush administration published a pandemic plan, which said that medical supplies should be distributed from the Strategic National Stockpile in the event of an outbreak. In 2009, a federal task forcerecommendedthat the Obama administration replenish that stockpile of N95 protective face masks, which had been depleted during that year’s swine flu outbreak. It did not.

Flash forward to 2017, seven days before Donald Trump took office. Obama administration officialssimulatedan influenza pandemic with the incoming Trump administration.

In May, the following year, Trump’s biodefense preparedness adviser, Luciana Borio, warned that a flu pandemic was the country’s top health security threat. “We know that it cannot be stopped at the border,” she said.

That same month, the top official responsible for leading the U.S. response to a pandemic like COVID-19 left the administration and the health security team he ran was disbanded by national security adviser John Bolton. At the time, a former Obama administration officialwarnedthe move “seems to actively unlearn the lessons we learned through very hard experience over the last 15 years. These moves make us materially less safe. It’s inexplicable.”

And just last year, from January to August, the Department of Health and Human Servicessimulateda pandemic scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,” which revealed how incredibly underfunded and underprepared the federal government was for a viral outbreak like this very one.

What good are all these simulations if they do not spur the government into action?

With all of these failings coming to light — and surely there are more to come — Trump has tried to dodge accountability at every turn. First hesaid, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for testing lags. He’s blamed Obama, Democrats, even journalists for his administration’s failures, at one time saying “the only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media.”

He’s said he didn’t know anything about dismantling the pandemic response team, despite avideoof him explaining that decision shows that to be a lie. “I’m a businessperson,” he said during a press briefing in February. “I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.”

He’s alternately dismissed the pandemic as nothing more than the flu, and now he is saying coronavirus is far worse than the flu.

There’s simply no way around it. This administration’s lack of preparedness and, in some cases, willful denial of facts has cost American lives. And while we’re still coping with the current pandemic, it’s not too early to think about the next one and ask ourselves: Is this president capable of learning from mistakes when he refuses to admit he’s made any?

The answer is both obvious and terrifying.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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