White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is an epic jerk who thinks he’s qualified to push an unproven coronavirus treatment because he has a social science PhD and who would “bet on President Trump’s intuition” over science, but even he joined the parade of pandemic warnings ignored by Donald Trump in late January and February.
In contrast to the long string of pandemic warnings ignored and pandemic preparation systems dismantled by Trump over the past three years, Navarro’s warning was specific to coronavirus. As the trade adviser and official White House Guy Who Hates China, Navarro saw the outbreak developing and, on January 29, wrote a memo warning that the lack of vaccine or treatment or immune protection “elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
Navarro’s primary suggestion, in the January 29 memo, for fighting the outbreak was a travel ban from China, which Trump did impose and which worked … well, look around you and judge if that was sufficient. That policy proposal may have affected the seriousness with which Navarro’s warning was taken, since Navarro is always looking for excuses to take action against China. A “senior administration official” told Axios that “The January travel memo struck me as an alarmist attempt to bring attention to Peter’s anti-China agenda while presenting an artificially limited range of policy options.”
In a February 23 memo, Navarro warned, “There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls” and estimated, “We can expect to need at least a billion face masks, 200,000 Tyvek suits, and 11,000 ventilator circuits, and 25,000 PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators).”
Navarro’s memos circulated at the White House, but while his China travel ban played to Trump’s general impulses, Trump was less interested in the broader warnings. On January 30, the day after Navarro’s first memo, Trump claimed “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment—five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.” In late February, reality was starting to sink in occasionally, but Trump was still saying things like “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”
Add Navarro’s warning to the list of other warnings about pandemics Trump ignored and systems for detecting and fighting pandemics Trump dismantled:
- In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference and webinar warning of pandemic.
- Also in 2018, Donald Trump dismantled the National Security Council’s global health section, which was supposed to fight pandemics.
- Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security stopped running pandemic simulations for preparedness.
- But the Department of Health and Human Services did run Operation Crimson Contagion, exercises about a global pandemic conducted just last fall, months before completely missing the ball on an actual pandemic.
- Also last fall, White House economists warned of the economic effects of a pandemic.
- Also last fall, the Trump administration ended funding for a pandemic early warning program that had discovered 160 new novel coronaviruses and worked with the lab in Wuhan that ultimately caught the emergence of COVID-19.
- The Trump administration inherited a pandemic playbook from the Obama administration, which drew on the lessons of Ebola and H1N1.
- And the Obama administration tried to prepare the Trump administration with a pandemic response exercise during the transition.
Presumably Navarro’s memos made it to the press to counteract the terrible day of press his “I have a PhD” arrogance around his push for unproven treatments got him on Monday. And he remains obsessed with his hatred of China. In general, he’s a member of the Trump administration for a reason. But he did issue a warning, and Trump, as usual, ignored everything but the racially divisive part.