Coronavirus infections and deaths are rising fast. The Trump administration remains largely disengaged. — The New York Times
Coronavirus infections and deaths are rising fast. The Trump administration remains largely disengaged. — The New York Times
The Surging Coronavirus Finds a Federal Leadership Vacuum
The winter wave has been anticipated for months. Now that it’s here, health officials worry once again about strategy and supplies.

Coronavirus infections and deaths are rising fast. The Trump administration remains largely disengaged.

The White House task force has been all but publicly silent. Shortages of personal protective equipment are back, and governors are again competing with one another and big hospital chains for scarce gear.

... The Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency reserve, has only 115 million N95 masks, far short of the 300 million the administration had hoped to amass by winter, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who retired on Monday as the national supply chain commander, said in a recent interview, though he added that the government is continuing to expand its supplies of protective gear.

Dr. Shikha Gupta, the executive director of Get Us PPE, a volunteer effort that matches available supplies to health care providers, said 70 percent of those requesting help from the organization last month reported being completely out of some gear, especially masks, gloves and disinfecting wipes.

“Health care workers are exhausted and frustrated, and it’s really hard to believe that on Nov. 10, it feels very much like the middle of March all over again,” she said.

Governors are once again competing with one another and big hospital chains for scarce gear. Nursing homes are grappling with staff shortages, which have left hospitals unable to discharge patients to their care. In Wisconsin, the situation is so severe that health officials are mulling a plan to train family members of nursing home residents to fill in at facilities that lack enough workers.

... But as the country enters what may be the most intense stage of the pandemic yet, the Trump administration remains largely disengaged. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is trying to assume a leadership mantle, with the appointment of a coronavirus advisory board and a call for all Americans to wear masks, but until his inauguration on Jan. 20, he lacks the authority to mobilize a federal response.

“With 1,000 deaths per day, it’s like two jumbo jets dropping from the sky,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University. “If every day, two jumbo jets would drop from the sky and kill everybody, don’t you think that everybody would be in a panic?”

... Beyond Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed, the federal bully pulpit — an essential component of an effective infectious disease response — has largely gone silent. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Tuesday that the vaccine would be “a game changer” over time.

But a vaccine is not an immediate panacea, and until doses become widely available — likely in mid-2021 — the nation is in a “difficult situation,” he said, that calls for Americans to wear masks and social distance, and to avoid crowded settings, particularly indoors.

“My message to the American public is: Hang on, help is coming, a vaccine is on its way, we need to all pull together,” Dr. Fauci said.

Washington’s leadership void is raising anxiety in states and cities.

... Even many large hospital chains, which say they have adequate supplies of medical gear, continue to operate in crisis mode. That often means requiring employees to repeatedly reuse respirator masks that are meant to be discarded after each use.