A parallel COVID-19 strategy run by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has sucked valuable time from health experts scrambling to respond to the surging pandemic and save lives, sources have told The Washington Post.
Comments and requests from President Donald Trump’s son-in-law that task force members felt compelled to respond to — no matter how “ill-conceived” — set them even further back on an already-delayed path, according to the Post.
The Kushner complication has been just one of a series of stumbles that hampered the U.S. response to COVID-19, costing the country its most valuable weapon in a fight against any pandemic: time, according to a scathing chronology of the battle by the Post. Though the U.S. has the wealth and knowledge to conquer a disease, it has been plagued by the president’s time-costing denial of the threat, a subsequent sluggish response, and a lack of efficient management, the newspaper reported.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar worked to head off the surging cases of the new coronavirus, Trump tended to turn for advice to others with “no credentials, experience or discernible insight in navigating a pandemic,” the Post reported. One of those was Kushner, a former real estate developer with no previous government or medical experience, who ran a parallel COVID-19 team from a floor of the HHS, and cooked up a series of half-formed ideas, according to the Post.
One brainstorm was for Google to set up a national website to direct people to testing sites in Walmart parking lots across America, the Post noted. The multiple Walmart sites haven’t yet materialized. And Google was taken by surprise when Trump announced at a press briefing last month that it was creating a national testing website. The company was just beginning to design a map testing site — and only for the San Francisco Bay Area, where Google’s headquarters are located.
Another idea — pushed by Oracle chairman Larry Ellison — involved using software to monitor the use of anti-malaria drugs to fight COVID-19, according to the Post. The drugs have not yet been proven to be effective.
Such floated strategies often interrupted work of those already under “immense pressure” to catch up to the pandemic, the Post reported.
“Right now, Fauci is trying to roll out the most ambitious clinical trial ever implemented” to speed the development of a vaccine, a former senior administration official, who talks frequently to former colleagues, told the Post. Yet the top health officials “are getting calls from the White House or Jared’s team asking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do this with Oracle?’ ”
For the first time on Thursday, Kushner spoke at Trump’s daily press briefing about battling COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence announced that Kushner is now in charge of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to oversee the distribution of direly needed medical supplies.
Ironically, Kushner noted that this was a time to judge the management capabilities of leaders. But he was talking about local leaders — governors and senators — not the president.
He also said that the Strategic National Stockpile of supplies was not for states to use in an emergency — which is exactly what they’re intended for, according to its own website at the time. The site has since been modified to conform with Kushner’s inaccurate claims.
Kushner also insisted, without citing any data, that cities do not need as many life-saving ventilators as they’re requesting. That same idea was expressed last month by Trump, who said he didn’t believe New York needed the ventilators Gov. Andrew Cuomo was requesting. “I have a feeling,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Cuomo responded the following day that estimates are based on mathematical projections by public health experts drawn from expected increases in COVID-19 cases and patient need. “I don’t operate on opinion. I operate on facts, data, projections,” Cuomo said at his daily press briefings. “All the projections say you could have an apex of 40,000 ventilators.”
The state on Saturday arranged to obtain 1,000 more ventilators — from China.
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