Birx and Redfield, Equivocal Leaders

Birx stung by first public attack from Trump

C.D.C.’s Dr. Robert Redfield Confronts Coronavirus, and Anger

 CDC director: COVID-19 reporting change was made without agency’s input

Two medical doctors with military backgrounds are uncomfortably serving the Trump administration on its Coronavirus Task Force. Both have good reputations as physicians, but they continue to flounder through the political flak that Trump creates.

I keep wondering why they don’t quit. But it’s obvious they’ve got important jobs and so feel the need to eat a little Trumpshit to maintain them. Dr. Birx is now getting it from both Trump and Pelosi, so her situation gets hotter. Dr. Redfield just wants to be a good researcher yet doesn’t seem capable of heading the once-world-renowned-now-faltering CDC.

Both these folks are out of their depth, as are so many of Trump’s appointees. It’s not stretching things to say that the country’s response to COVID-19 has suffered because of their limitations. Learning to play politics with health care is not something either appears to have signed up for.

Dr. Birx, the scarf lady, is famous for sitting on her hands when Trump floated disinfectant and UV light as a cure. She can’t decide which side of the fence she’s on, so she’s taking it from both sides. Most recently Trump called her “pathetic,” then went on to praise her. Speaker Pelosi also let her have it last week:

“Deborah Birx is the worst. Wow, what horrible hands you’re in,” she is quoted as saying [in a meeting with Mnuchin and Meadows]. She also described Dr Fauci as a “hero.”

There’s your reward for having an office in the West Wing.

Redfield’s problems began with the still unresolved testing debacle at the CDC at the beginning of the viral crisis. He has still not accounted for what happened, but something bad did and as a result the country is way behind on any significant testing.

Last week he was blocked from giving testimony to a Congressional committee on school openings. The week before that, the administration pulled the rug out from under him by ordering all patient data on COVID to bypass the CDC and go directly to HHS. Hospitals now claim chaos in reporting, and the data of course are ripe for political massaging. Redfield’s comments were a study in milquetoast response.

Birx and Redfield are both trying to do their jobs under most difficult circumstances. We give them that. But both are operating under impossibly conflicting demands—speaking the truth as leaders or keeping their jobs as toadies. Each finally has to determine, one way or another, to stand up to Trump, whose political position now I think is too weak to fire them. Well, does either have the guts to do this? I’m not betting on them.

Joining the Herd?

Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s

Lockdown protesters shout ‘be like Sweden’ — but Swedes say they are missing the point

As Europe emerges from lockdown, the question hangs: was Sweden right?

If you thought the politics of coronavirus couldn’t get any crazier, think again. Trump has totally copped out of any pretense to manage the crisis, while the U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths. If so many people weren’t dying, this could be high comedy: see Sarah Cooper above. Did you ever have a nightmare with humorous overtones?

The right wing has begun praising Sweden’s approach after years of vilifying its liberal government. The left wing wants to keep everyone locked down. Wisconsin opens up completely with no protections. Armed protestors get nasty in Michigan. People are fed up with staying home and the economy is suffering badly. So hoping for immunity is apparently a last resort.

Sweden’s opening up is based on the idea that eventually the populace will develop immunities to the virus, a herd immunity of maybe 60 percent, though that will require voluntary social distancing and other restrictions that the Swedes seem to be buying into. Yet the country has been criticized for “exceeding the per capita death rates of other Nordic countries and in particular, for failing to protect its elderly and immigrant populations. People receiving nursing and elder-care services account for upward of 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden . . . .”

So the Swedish response is really a mixed bag, though one site opines that “the economic and social costs of lockdowns are enormous.” It has taken a careful government response to slow the spread of the virus, though this hasn’t been entirely successful. The fact that many Republicans are now praising Sweden is based on a total misunderstanding of the policy and its outcomes. Tucker Carlson praising Sweden is truly high comedy. Nor would the policy work in the U.S., which has large populations of immigrants and low-income people. In Sweden everyone is covered by a healthcare plan.

The idea of herd immunity makes many people skeptical and afraid. And yet, to follow the Swedish argument, we have to “find ways of living with this virus. There is no sign of a vaccine on the immediate horizon. We cannot ruin the world economy indefinitely. Better to concentrate on protecting our health services against it, should it return.”

The Swedish model will certainly not work everywhere. In Sweden there is a high level of trust between the people and the government. That is absolutely not true in the U.S. or, for that matter, the U.K. And the Swedes have a much healthier population that comes from a better healthcare system. They don’t do so well at helping at-risk people.

The U.S. is learning that it ultimately can’t manage a general lockdown. It can’t even manage to produce enough swabs. The country is going to be forced into adopting a kind of herd immunity because, as Trump’s folly has shown, there’s no other workable choice.