Following the West African Ebola epidemic that lasted from 2014 to 2016, officials at the National Security Council in former President Barack Obama‘s administration authored a playbook containing valuable guidance on how the United States government should prepare for future pandemics. But though the Trump administration was briefed on the playbook in 2017, they simply paid no attention to it, according to a report published on Wednesday by Politico.
Formally titled Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents, the existence of the 69-page “pandemic playbook” had not been previously revealed to the public. Tom Bossert, the former top Trump administration NSC official in charge of pandemic response told Politico that he “engaged actively” with his predecessors on the Obama team and “took seriously their transition materials and recommendations on pandemic preparedness.”
Bossert was fired by Donald Trump in 2018.
Earlier this month, he publicly warned about the severity of the coronavirus crisis, saying on March 6 that 100 million Americans could ultimately contract the disease. On that same day, Trump gave a public statement that had very different advice.
“Calm. You have to be calm. It’ll go away,” he said, as quoted by The Washington Post.
Trump frequently sought to minimize the threat of the viral outbreak, The Washington Post chronicled, even as his administration ignored steps outlined in the playbook necessary to prepare for dangerous pandemics.
Among other guidelines, the playbook urges any U.S. administration to ask such questions as “Is there sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are providing medical care?” Healthcare workers across the country are now faced with extreme shortages of “PPE,” endangering their own safety and the health of coronavirus patients.
But one Trump administration official told Politico that the playbook was essentially useless.
“The plan we are executing now is a better fit,” the official, not named by Politico, told the publication. A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson also confirmed to Politico that the Obama-era “playbook” was not part of the Trump administration plan for combatting the coronavirus pandemic.
According to earlier reports, the president and his advisers also disregarded reports from the U.S. intelligence community, warning of the coming pandemic that was then wreaking devastation in China. His refusal to heed the intelligence warnings was characterized by Foreign Policy magazine as an intelligence failure worse than the ones leading up the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Through January and February, as Trump and his advisers ignored both the intelligence reports and the pandemic playbook, he repeatedly shrugged off the severity of the crisis, according to The Washington Post, even claiming on February 26 that the number of cases in the U.S. would drop “close to zero” in “a couple of days.”
One month later, the U.S. case total has topped 69,000 and more than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus infection, according to the population data site Worldometers.