The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year set up a months-long simulated exercise that showed the nation was unprepared for a pandemic, according to a critical draft assessment. Then the Trump administration took little action to respond to many of the lessons learned, The New York Times reported.
The exercise, code named “Crimson Contagion,” had eerie similarities to the current real-life coronavirus pandemic.
The exercise involved officials from more than a dozen federal agencies, several states and hospitals responding to a scenario in which a pandemic flu that began in China was spread by international tourists and was deemed a pandemic 47 days after the first outbreak. By then, in the scenario, 110 million Americans were expected to become ill.
The simulation that ran from January to August exposed problems that included funding shortfalls, muddled leadership roles, scarce resources, and a hodgepodge of responses from cities and states, according to the dunning assessment obtained by the Times.
It also became apparent that the U.S. was incapable of quickly manufacturing adequate equipment and medicines for such an emergency, according to the draft report.
White House officials told the Times that an executive order following the exercise improved the availability of flu vaccines. The administration also said it moved this year to increase funding for a pandemic program in HHS.
But Trump’s administration eliminated a pandemic unit within the Department of Homeland Security in 2018. And weeks after the first real coronavirus case was diagnosed in the U.S., Trump submitted a 2021 budget proposal calling for a $693.3 million reduction in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials wouldn’t explain why the administration’s coronavirus response was so slow to roll out testing, or to move on promoting social distancing and school closings — all steps highlighted in the exercise, according to the Times.
While President Donald Trump has claimed that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic ... of this proportion,” that’s exactly the kind of possibility the exercise addressed.
The Trump administration also had the benefit of lessons learned by the Obama administration in dealing with the Ebola crisis. Obama aides in early 2017 ran an exercise for pandemic preparedness for incoming officials of the Trump administration as part of the transition, but almost all of the previous administration’s experts had left the government by last year.
The U.S. will “remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support,” the threat report warned.
The presentation of this year’s threat assessment to members of Congress has been held up by the Trump administration, Time magazine reported, citing unnamed sources. The report warns the U.S. is unprepared for a pandemic.