The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Governors are leading, while Trump is faking it

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) discusses an outline for what it will take to lift coronavirus restrictions during a news conference in Rancho Cordova, Calif., on April 14. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who distinguished himself as the first governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, thereby helping to spare California the death toll seen in other countries and in New York, has come up with a methodology for revving up his state’s economy. He will use these six criteria, the first being the most important:

• Expanding testing
• Protecting high risk groups, including seniors, the medically vulnerable and people in facilities like nursing homes
• Ensuring hospitals have enough beds and supplies to care for patients
• Progress in developing treatments
• Ability of schools and businesses to support physical distancing
• Ability to decide when to reinstitute stay-at-home orders if needed

Testing remains the great challenge. The state will need to test tens of thousands of people each day, which far exceeds current capacity. While testing remains a hurdle for all states (one that might be solved if President Trump actually used his non-total authority to ramp up production of testing kits and distribute them on an as-needed basis to the states), this is a fact-based, logical approach. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown (Ore.) laid out a similar framework: “Slowed growth of virus cases; adequate personal protective equipment for health-care workers and first responders; and increased testing, contact tracing and isolation.”

President Trump calls criticism of his coronavirus response "fake," yet cherry-picks news clips to make his case. He can't have it both ways, says Erik Wemple. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford / WP; Alex Brandon / AP/The Washington Post)

And what of Trump, who on Monday declared he had total control to reopen the states? Well, it turns out he doesn’t (as any rational American understood). Instead, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue “guidelines” for a phased return to economic activity, one that includes many of the items Newsom already rolled out. Trump claims to be “authorizing” states to act, but they did not need his authorization to impose stay-at-home rules and they do not need his permission to relax them.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

The Post reports, “The document calls for the CDC to establish a Covid-19 Response Corps to help state and local health departments with key public health functions, including contact tracing, which involves locating people who may have had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.” Evidence that the federal government intends to assume the burden of scaling up testing, however, is scant.

In part to cover for the obvious gap between his assertion of “total” authority and his recommendations, Trump deployed his favorite tactic — distraction. He announced a new, entirely irrational pledge: Cut off support for the World Health Organization — in the middle of the pandemic — until a review is completed. He claims the WHO blew it in failing to anticipate the pandemic and that he got it right. In fact, he ignored the WHO’s January warnings; we now have more cases (more than 600,000) and more deaths (more than 25,000) than any other country. Trump, ever eager to blame others, decided the WHO was the best scapegoat, no matter how specious his accusations.

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The real Issue, however, lies with the administration, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointed out to her colleagues in a letter on Tuesday: “The first bill passed the House on March 4 and focused on testing, testing, testing,” she wrote. “The truth is, one month later, we do not have appropriate testing. The President continues to obfuscate, saying we have more testing than any other country in the world. The truth is that only 1 percent of Americans have been tested. The failure to test is central to the spread of the virus and its impact on those most vulnerable in our society. The failure to test is dangerous and deadly, and without testing, we cannot resume our lives.” Trump is not apparently up for the job of solving that problem.

Pelosi also issued a blunt denunciation of the president’s serial failures:

• The truth is that Donald Trump dismantled the infrastructure handed to him which was meant to plan for and overcome a pandemic, resulting in unnecessary deaths and economic disaster.
• The truth is that in January Donald Trump was warned about this pandemic, ignored those warnings, took insufficient action and caused unnecessary death and disaster.
• The truth is that Donald Trump told his most loyal followers that the pandemic was a hoax and that it would magically disappear, thus endangering lives and paving the way for economic disaster.
• The truth is that we did not have proper testing available in March despite Trump repeatedly claiming that we did; and even now, we do not have adequate tests, masks, PPE, and necessary equipment, which creates unnecessary death and suffering.
• The truth is because of an incompetent reaction to this health crisis, the strong economy handed to Donald Trump is now a disaster, causing the suffering of countless Americans and endangering lives.
• The truth is a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others.

Put differently, governors understand the problem, are responsible for solving it, are coming up with plans to reopen their states and ease social distancing. Trump is pretending to authorize states to do what they are already doing, but lacks the ability or will to do what likely only the federal government can do — provide the resources and production and distribution system to widely disseminate critical testing. Once more, Trump pretends to have powers he doesn’t and refuses to exercise those he does. He is a “weak person,” to be sure.

Read more:

George T. Conway III: Trump will never be able to accept that the presidency doesn’t belong to him

Andrew Bakaj, John Tye and Mark Zaid: Trump is waging war on our inspectors general. Congress needs to choose a side.

Megan McArdle: The important question isn’t when the government is going to lift restrictions. It’s this.

David Von Drehle: Our plan to reopen the economy relies on an incorrect assumption

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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