An Oral History of the Pandemic Warnings Trump Ignored

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tags: oral history, presidential history, Donald Trump, pandemic, coronavirus


I. The Clinton Era

Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, October 1, 1994: Many aspects of history are unanticipated and unforeseen, predictable only in retrospect: the fall of the Berlin Wall is a single recent example. Yet in one vital area, the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, we can already predict the future—and it is threatening and dangerous to us all.

White House Press ReleaseJune 12, 1996: Calling emerging infectious diseases a growing global health threat, Vice President Gore today announced President Clinton’s new policy to establish a worldwide infectious disease surveillance and response system and expand certain federal agency mandates to better protect American citizens. “Emerging infectious diseases present one of the most significant health and security challenges facing the global community,” Vice President Gore said during remarks to the annual meeting of the National Council for International Health in Crystal City, Virginia. “Through President Clinton’s leadership, we now have the first national policy to deal with this serious international problem.”

II. The Bush Era

Gardiner Harris, From Washington, a Story About a Killer Flu,” The New York Times, October 16, 2005: This week, the Bush administration is expected to release its pandemic flu plan, which could generate its own movie epic. The Times obtained a draft of the plan, dated September 30. No one would confuse the 381-page document with a screenplay, but pages 45 through 47, the section titled “Pandemic Scenario—Origin and Initial Spread,” are gripping. They describe a flu epidemic moving from a village in Asia to the United States, where it causes panic and as many as 1.9 million deaths.

Excerpt, “Pandemic Scenario—Origin and Initial Spread,” White House planning scenario: During the peak of disease activity in the community, police, fire and transportation services are limited by personnel shortages, and absenteeism at utility companies leads to spot power outages. Supplies of food, fuel, and medical supplies are disrupted as truck drivers become ill or stay home from work. In some areas, grocery store shelves are empty and social unrest occurs. Long lines form where food and gasoline are available. Elderly patients with chronic, unstable medical conditions hesitate to leave their homes for fear of becoming seriously ill with influenza. Riots occur at some vaccination clinics as people are turned away or supplies run out. Several trucks transporting vaccine are hijacked, and a gray market develops for vaccine and antiviral drugs—many of which are counterfeit … Family members are distraught and outraged when loved ones die within a matter of a few days. Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government, diminishing compliance with public health advisories. “Worried well” seek medical care despite their absence of influenza illness, further burdening the health care system. Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed.

President George W. Bush, National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, November 1, 2005: Once again, nature has presented us with a daunting challenge: the possibility of an influenza pandemic. Most of us are accustomed to seasonal influenza, or “the flu,” a viral infection that continues to be a significant public health challenge. From time to time, changes in the influenza virus result in a new strain to which people have never been exposed … Although the timing cannot be predicted, history and science suggest that we will face one or more pandemics in this century.


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