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Democrats detail the effects of the pandemic’s early failures in a new Senate report

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WASHINGTON — Many of the deaths and much of the economic damage from the Covid pandemic could have been prevented, especially in the early months of the coronavirus spread, had the federal government been better prepared after decades of warnings, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs The committee reports this in a report on Thursday.

The 242-page report, written by Democrats on the panel, cited long-term weaknesses in the country’s public health infrastructure, from staff shortages and inadequate disease surveillance to poor testing systems. Those factors, combined with the Trump administration’s inability to stock up on adequate personal protective equipment and provide accurate information to the public, were the leading causes of preventable Covid deaths and economic damage, the report said.

“The loss of life, the damage to the health and livelihoods of countless Americans, and the suffering caused by the pandemic were not inevitable. We could have handled the situation very differently,” committee chair Gary Peters, D-Mich., said during a phone call with reporters.

The findings are drawn in part from new interviews with Trump administration officials involved in the initial response, including Dr. Robert Redfield, who was the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar; and dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force.

But the report indicated that the pandemic failings extended beyond the Trump administration.

“Despite repeated warnings, systematic deficiencies in public health surveillance systems, years of inadequate funding, over-reliance on foreign supply chains, and a growing shortage of medical and public health personnel, they have all contributed to what has been one of the worst public health responses in the world. US history has become. the report said.

China withheld vital information in the early days of the initial outbreak; US officials, on the other hand, had early warning signs and were slow to react, unable to quickly detect the spread of the virus in the US. The CDC missed at least half of the cases that entered the country in January and February 2020.

The federal government publicly confirmed the country’s first case on Jan. 21, 2020, but blood samples later showed the virus had been circulating in the U.S. a month earlier, the commission’s report said.

In some cases, health departments hand-transcribed information and faxed data, slowing the sharing of information about how the coronavirus spread. The CDC also struggled for months to develop an effective test to detect the virus, with the commission finding conflicting internal accounts of what went wrong.

In January and February, as the virus began to spread more widely, the only test available had to be performed at CDC’s Atlanta labs, which took days to return results. By the end of February, when tens of thousands of people in the U.S. were likely infected, the CDC had tested fewer than 1,200, the report said.

The US was also hampered by a lack of domestic medical production for items such as surgical masks, gowns and gloves — 80% of which were made abroad — and had insufficient supplies in the federal stockpile, the commission said.

Making matters worse, according to the commission, was the Trump administration’s decision in February 2020 to ship 17.8 tons of personal protective equipment to China after the Department of Health and Human Services determined that there were “no known immediate concerns were with medical supply chains. ”

The commission found that other parts of the federal government were warning at the time about the weakness of the medical supply chain and lack of necessary supplies. The report cited a State Department memorandum dated Feb. 7, 2020, which stated that a major personal protective equipment manufacturer could only produce 10% of its inventory of hazmat and surgical gowns due to a shortage of fabric from China. Similarly, a DHS report stated that 96% of pharmacy owners and managers already reported a shortage of surgical masks, according to the report.

The federal government was also slow to allocate its supplies from the national stockpile, allocating items to states based on population rather than demonstrated need, the report said. As a result, New Jersey received less than 5% of the N95 respirators it requested, while Wyoming received more than 1,000% more than it requested.

The early missteps failed to adequately protect healthcare workers and exposed them to the virus, in some cases fatally.

Trump administration officials also failed to adequately communicate the risks to the public and limited communications from the CDC after the agency issued a strong warning to the public on Feb. 25, 2020, that the virus would severely disrupt their lives.

After that, the White House began requiring approval of all telebriefings, media requests, and guidance documents, “resulting in lengthy delays to critical health guidelines and limiting CDC’s ability to share information directly with the public,” as it was “not allowed public briefings.” said the report.

The country’s overall pandemic planning, combined with many of its structural flaws, is still insufficient to meet future threats, the commission said. It made a variety of recommendations, including increasing funding to improve public health oversight, data systems, health care capacity, domestic manufacturing capacity, and stockpiles of critical supplies.

Other recommendations included clarifying the role of agencies, improving inter-agency communication, changing the structure of the Department of Health and Human Services, reviewing strategic inventory, and improving domestic production capabilities.

While some of the changes can be made by the White House and at the agency level, many will require additional funding from Congress, which has failed to pass funding legislation that would address some of the issues raised in the report. would alleviate concerns.

“This is not the first public health crisis our country has faced, and unfortunately it won’t be the last,” said Peters.

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