Did Abraham Lincoln infect his valet with smallpox?

Trump may not be the only president to spread a deadly disease. Here is Michael Rosenwald at The Washington Post:

On his way home from delivering the Gettysburg Address in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was overcome by a splitting headache.

A fever was coming on. He grew quiet. Not knowing what else to do, the president who had just given one of the most famous speeches in American history went to his drawing room and bathed his head in cold water. Then he lay down.

At his side on Nov. 19, 1863, helping take care of him was one of the most important yet historically overlooked people in Lincoln’s life — William H. Johnson, a 30-year-old Black man the president had brought with him from Illinois to be his personal valet.

In today’s political lexicon, Johnson would be called a body man, there for every need the president might have, both personal and official. A body man’s proximity to the president places him inches from history on a daily basis.

But when the president contracts a dangerous infectious disease, a body man is just a breath away from potential death.

Read the rest here.

On COVID-19, Plymouth, and providential history

Many Christians believe in providential history. This is the idea that human beings can understand the will of God in the affairs of men and women as they lived through time. Most providential historians have no place for the mysteries of providence. Instead, they are certain that they know exactly what God has done in the world, especially if such divine action enhances the glory of the United States.

I have roundly rejected providential history on both historical and theological grounds. See my book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past for more.

But after I read a recent piece on the 400th anniversary of the settlement of the Plymouth colony, I thought I would imagine a way of doing providential history that does not invoke the glory of the United States or its supposedly Christian roots.

Based on the methodology (if you can call it that) of providential history, one could make some interesting interpretations of the relationship between COVID-19 and the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth colony.

What if God brought COVID-19 at this particular time, in this particular year, to remind Americans that the Plymouth settlement may not have been possible if disease had not killed-off most of the local native Americans before the Pilgrims arrived?

Just to be clear, I am not endorsing such a view. But if you are going to invoke God’s providence in founding Plymouth as the forerunner of an exceptional United States, then what is to stop someone from offering an alternative providential reading? This is why providence is not a useful category for historical interpretation.

Here is Allen Breed of the Associated Press:

The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for the Pilgrims.

Dozens of events were planned to mark the 400th anniversary of the religious separatists’ arrival at what we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts. But many of those activities have been postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Historian Elizabeth Fenn finds that deeply ironic.

“Novel infections did MOST of the dirty work of colonization,” says Fenn, a history professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who has studied disease in Colonial America.

Disease introduced by traders and settlers — either by happenstance or intention — played a significant role in the “conquest” of Native people. And that inconvenient fact, well known to the Natives’ descendants, is contrary to the traditional narrative of the “New World.”

Read the rest here.

What COVID-19 exposed about the United States

Corona Healthcare

All of these points come from Ed Yong’s recent piece at The Atlantic: “How the Pandemic Defeated America.”

  • We under-fund public health.
  • Our health-care system is weak.
  • Too much of what we do spend on healthcare is wasted.
  • We have not dealt sufficiently with systemic racism.
  • Our attempts to shred our nation’s social safety net has failed us
  • Social media is destroying us.
  • We are a nation of anti-intellectuals who do not believe in expertise.
  • The media only enhances our anti-intellectualism, rejection of expertise, and belief in conspiracy theories.
  • Individualism has its limits.
  • Our country lacks leadership, especially in the White House.
  • Our president lies to us.
  • Politics is more important than truth.
  • We don’t believe in climate change.
  • We don’t care about the natural habitats of animals.
  • We are xenophobes.
  • We fail to heed warnings.
  • Our prisons are overcrowded.
  • Our nursing homes are woefully understaffed.
  • We view health as a matter of personal responsibility rather than a collective good.
  • 20th century advances in medicine have made us complacent in the 21st century.
  • We treat the elderly as “acceptable losses.”
  • We treat people with intellectual disabilities and dementia as second-class citizens.
  • There are Americans who ignore the government and follow science.
  • Our failure to cultivate strong international alliance has failed us.

Read the Yong’s piece here.

What early Americans could teach Donald Trump about this pandemic

smallpox-edward-jenner-gettyimages-1056342166

Check out historian Andrew Wehrman‘s piece at The Washington Post:

Thomas Paine, who had helped shift public opinion with “Common Sense” in the spring of 1776, wrote a new book weighing in on the French Revolution from London, titled “The Rights of Man.” It was published in serial form on the front page of the Boston newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, and excerpts and reviews commanded tremendous public attention across other local newspapers, too. Supporters of shutting down the city during the epidemic used Thomas Paine’s words and reasoning to support their position.

He argued that government was “a trust. … It has of itself no rights; they are altogether duties.” He also urged the adoption of a system of “progressive taxation” to support a comprehensive program for the poor “to provide against the misfortunes to which all human life is subject.” The government needed to care for the “laboring man,” who paid all his taxes honestly but still could not afford it “if himself, or [his family] are afflicted with sickness,” Thomas Paine argued.

As the outbreak intensified and the pressure to shut down grew, city leaders announced on Aug. 28, 1792, that the city would close for a general inoculation. The people rushed to inoculate, quarantine and support the poor. On Oct. 8, Cooper declared that the city was free of infection. In all, 9,152 people had inoculated and 165 had died, a mortality rate of 1.8 percent. An additional 232 people caught the disease naturally, and of those, 33 died, a mortality rate of 14 percent. Closing down the city saved thousands of lives. Trade resumed and lives continued, but because the public health efforts were successful, they were largely forgotten.

Today’s leaders should heed the advice of one correspondent writing under the name “Centinel” in 1792. Centinel warned that politicians showed their “highest indignation” to the people by refusing to shut down to halt an epidemic. He argued that government ought to follow “the loud hints of the law, and the broad hints of the people.” He warned that when the public is kept from removing small pests like germs from their society, they will turn their anger on larger pests, like politicians.

Read the entire piece here.

What Can We Learn from the 1793 Yellow Fever In Philadelphia

YellowFeverHaulingDead

Between August 1 and November 9, 1793, at least 5000 Philadelphians died of yellow fever. (The city had a population of 50,000).

I want to call your attention two short pieces on this front.

Lindsay Chervinsky‘s piece at the blog of Harvard University Press it titled “National Epidemics, Then and Now“:  Here is a taste:

How then do 1793 and 2020 compare? Both then and now, political parties appear divided over the causes and solutions to the epidemics. The biggest difference between the two cases is the perspective on executive power. Today, disease prevention and public health are managed by executive agencies that report to the president. The heads of the departments sit on the National Security Council to ensure that global pandemics don’t threaten the nation’s security. The founders couldn’t have envisioned the current pandemic we face, but they understood that certain crises called for federal action. While they weren’t prepared to call for that action in 1793, we can today.

Read the entire piece here.  Our interview with Chervinsky in Episode 68 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is coming soon.

Simon Finger‘s piece at The Panorama is titled “Patients and Patience: The Long Career of Yellow Fever.”  Here is a taste:

The lesson of a city saved by shared sacrifice and civic responsibility is an inspiring one for 2020, when so much hangs upon popular cooperation with calls for social distancing, home sheltering, and public masking. But while Carey’s story ends happily in 1793, that outbreak was only the beginning of a longer ordeal, and one that carried different lessons for the present. Yellow fever returned to North America every summer until 1805, claiming more than 12,000 lives in the process.

Read the entire piece here.

TED Talk Evangelicalism: From Moral Equivalency to Essential Oils

gabe_lyons_1

Gabe Lyons, evangelical influencer

When Gabe Lyons, host of the 2020 Q Virtual Summit, invited David French and Eric Metaxas to debate the merits of Donald Trump I wrote (among other things):

There is a kind of moral equivalence in Lyons’s introduction that bothers me. I know that there are many white evangelicals who voted for Trump, probably far more than did not, but I have yet to be convinced that this is a debate between two thoughtful Christian positions. In other words, I am not sure this is a time for civility as much as it is a time for the church to speak with a prophetic voice. A time for civility and the healing of wounds will come again, but now is not that time.

And now this:

A Christian group hosted talks promoting what experts say are unfounded claims that alternative health methods such as practicing gratitude and consuming essential oils can combat or even prevent contracting the novel coronavirus, sparking pushback from at least one ally of the group.

The talks took place on platforms affiliated with Gabe Lyons and his wife, Rebekah, both of whom are influential evangelical Christian authors and speakers. The two founded Q, which is described on its website as “a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good in society.” The organization hosts an annual conference that resembles TED Talks and features prominent Christian speakers, as well as business leaders, politicians and entertainers. Videos of the talks and affiliated podcasts are distributed via apps to digital devices such as Apple TV.

Lyons recently hosted two coronavirus-themed conversations with Joshua Axe, who is listed as a chiropractor and nutritionist on his website, which sells a wide variety of alternative health supplements such as essential oils. The website does not describe Axe as an expert on epidemiology, but it does boast that his company, Axe Wellness, has won accolades in Tennessee. The nature of his practice is unclear: the state’s Department of Health lists his chiropractic license as expired as of 2013.

The first conversation occurred on a Feb. 28 episode of the “Rhythms for Life” podcast, a reference to Rebekah Lyons’ book “Rhythms of Renewal,” which is described as outlining methods to “overcome anxiety with daily habits that strengthen you mentally and physically.”

In the podcast conversation with Gabe Lyons, Axe downplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus by claiming “we’ve actually had worse threats in the past,” suggested the pharmaceutical industry and “the media” benefit from “driving fear” around the pandemic and claimed he has “complete confidence” that he could either avoid infection from the coronavirus or defeat it in a few days by boosting his immune system through alternative methods such as ingesting ginger tea and oregano oil.

“I’m in complete confidence that if I’m exposed to the coronavirus that either I won’t get it, or if I do get it, that, hey, it will be a few days and I’ll be fine afterwards,” he said. “Because when your immune system is strong — God designed our bodies to fight viruses. And that’s the thing: For me, it’s an attitude and mentality of faith over fear.”

Read the rest in Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and the 1849 Cholera Pandemic

Harriet+Beecher+Stowe+722

Nancy Koester, a writer and historian, is the author of an informative religious history of Harriett Beecher Stowe titled Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life.  If you are interested in how Stowe’s faith informed her activism, I recommend Nancy’s book. See our interview with Koester here.

In her recent piece at The Christian Post, Koester discusses how Stowe dealt with the death of her son Charley during Cincinnati’s 1849 cholera epidemic.

Here is a taste:

…cholera came to town in January 1849.  It started among the poor. African Americans and immigrants often lived in cramped quarters, with poor sanitation.  They suffered disproportionately then as now. 

But by late spring the disease was spreading.  Calvin was out of town, so Harriet wrote often. Doctors were getting “used up,” she said. There weren’t enough hearses to haul away the bodies, so farm wagons and furniture trucks were used.  On the streets people burned coal fires, laced with lime and Sulphur to combat the miasma.  One hundred and sixteen people died in a day.  Although the mayor proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer, the bars were so packed that drinkers went out to the streets and imbibed next to coffins awaiting transport.

Then Charley got sick….

Read the entire piece here.

CDC: The Second Wave of the Coronavirus Could be Deadlier

 

Corona Healthcare

Here is The Washington Post:

Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen their economies, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said. Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system, he said. The first wave of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed more than 42,000 people across the country. It has overwhelmed hospitals and revealed gaping shortages in test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health-care workers.

Read the rest here.

How the Hudson Bay Company Tried to Prevent the Spread of Small Pox

Great Plains Art

In 1780, a smallpox outbreak that ravaged much of the Western North America arrived on the Northern Great Plains. According to historian Scott Berthelette, the disease spread from Mexico through “Indegenous horse-borne trading and warfare” and claimed tens of thousand lives. The responsibility for dealing with the outbreak fell on the members of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), the joint-stock company that controlled the area. Writing at the blog Borealia, Berthelette describes how the HBC tried to protect the local Indigenous people (with whom they traded) from the disease. Here is a taste of his post:

Because eighteenth-century European notions of cleanliness prioritized freshly laundered garments over soaked and scrubbed hands and bodies, Cocking placed far more importance on sanitizing and disinfecting clothing. Nevertheless, it was sound epidemiologic advice because the smallpox virus could survive for extended periods of time on clothing and blankets. Similarly, William Tomison at Cumberland House along the Saskatchewan River ordered his men to fumigate the furs that they collected “with the Flour of Sulphur” as a disinfectant to prevent the spread of the disease. By all accounts, this policy of quarantine and frequent laundering of clothes and furs was successful with one HBC trader even optimistically writing that “by this prudent precaution the homeguards here are preserved.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Pilgrims and the 1625 London Plague

London Plague

Over at We’re History, early American historian Peter Wood writes about the London plague from the perspective of Plymouth Rock.  Here is a taste of his piece:

But in 1625, New England’s “hideous and desolate” isolation suddenly began to seem a God-given blessing in disguise. Captain Miles Standish had been sent back to England, aboard a ship laden with furs and fish, to negotiate with overbearing creditors for their “favour and help.” He went at “a very bad time,” Bradford related, for their home country was “full of trouble.” To his dismay, Standish found “the plague very hote in London, so no business could be done.”

Hot indeed. England’s plague had arrived, apparently from Holland, early in 1625, but it went undetected through most of March. George Wither, a poet who survived the epidemic, recalled how the stealthy sickness first approached London through the city’s “well-fill’d Suburbs” and spread there undetected for weeks…

By the end of 1625, the contagion had claimed nearly 70,000 lives across England. More than half the deaths had been in London. There, the disease had killed well over 35,000, in a city of fewer than 330,000 people. Many more may have been undiagnosed victims. One Londoner wrote that “to this present Plague of Pestilence, all former Plagues were but pettie ones.” Another lamented that no prior chronicle had “ever mentioned the like” for “our famous citie.”

As for Standish, he found the English adventurers who supported the Plymouth Colony were fearful in the midst of an economic collapse and a public health disaster. When the New Englander sought a loan, they could only offer him money at a whopping 50% interest rate.  As Bradford later summarized: “though their wills were good, yet theyr power was litle. And ther dyed such multitude weekly of the plague, as all trade was dead, and litle money stirring.”

In early April 1626, the Plymouth colonists welcomed Standish home safely, but his mission had been unsuccessful, and “the news he brought was sad in many regards.” Numerous English allies had been struck down financially and physically, “much disabled from doing any further help, and some dead of the plague.” Faced with such news and given “the state of things,” Bradford observed of his colonists, “it is a marvell it did not wholy discourage them and sinck them.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Trump Administration is Reading American History

Trump and FDR

It looks the Trump administration now thinks American history might be important.  Here is Gabby Orr at Politico:

When the avian flu first spread to pockets of Southeast Asia in 2005, President George W. Bush reassured Americans he would be prepared if the viral infection reached the United States.

“I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean,” Bush informed the public at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden that October, noting his recent dive into a book on pandemics.

It was John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” a meticulous account of the Spanish flu, which claimed an estimated 675,000 American lives a century ago. Bush had read a copy while vacationing at his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Texas.

Now, as a new virus wreaks havoc on the United States — leaving hospitals overwhelmed, businesses shuttered and at least 10 million Americans suddenly unemployed in just two weeks — some Trump officials are replicating the former president’s approach. Desperate for insight into how to respond to a staggering death toll and deep recession, the White House machinery is digging through American history for answers, hoping that somewhere in 2½ centuries of war, economic volatility, resilience and patriotism they might find analogs to help rally the nation and protect their boss’ legacy.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger finished a copy of Barry’s sobering narrative himself in early January, when the first cases of Covid-19 spread beyond mainland China.

A senior speechwriter for one Cabinet official read and then reread Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address — a powerful sermon on hope in the midst of the Great Depression, best known for Roosevelt’s declaration that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Read the entire piece here.

The books and documents Trump’s staff are reading were written and curated by historians who spend time conducting research to reconstruct the past. These scholars need support. I wonder if Trump will connect his staff’s reading of American history during this crisis with funding for the humanities. I’m not holding my breath. Trump has been trying to cut such funding since he got into office.

Donald Trump’s Grandfather Died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Frederick_Friedrich_Trump_2

His name was Frederick Trump. He died in the first wave of deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Mary Pilon’s report at The New York Times includes interviews with historians and authors Nancy Bristow, Gwenda Blair, and James Harris.

Here is a taste:

The winter following Frederick Trump’s death, deaths from the flu pandemic exploded. Public health resources were already strained by World War I, so not much was done to combat it. “Little was done those first two thirds of the pandemic,” said James Harris, a lecturer at Ohio State University who studies medical history and pandemics. “There was the wartime context, pushback to social distancing, people moving around the globe on a massive scale.”

Since then, the world has benefited from better understanding the need for social distancing and quarantining, the rise of antibiotics and vaccinations, and improved hygiene. “An important lesson we can learn is to be proactive,” Professor Harris said.

In her numerous interviews with Donald Trump, Ms. Blair said, he “showed zero interest in history.” That included the story of his grandfather’s life and death, and the impact it had on his father and relatives at the time. “There was no rear view mirror,” she said.

Among his many comments on the ongoing coronavirus crisis, in Atlanta on March 6, Donald Trump, more than a century after his grandfather’s passing, commented on the current state of flu deaths, an estimated 36,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Does anybody die from the flu?” the president said. “I didn’t know people died from the flu.”

Read the entire piece here.

Anthony Fauci: “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down”

Fauci wipes

Anthony Fauci is a national treasure. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is one of the heroes of this coronavirus pandemic. At Science Magazine, Fauci talks candidly with writer Jon Cohen about his role on the president’s coronavirus task force.

Here is a taste:

Q: What about the travel restrictions? President Trump keeps saying that the travel ban for China, which began 2 February, had a big impact [on slowing the spread of the virus to the United States] and that he wishes China would have told us three to four months earlier and that they were “very secretive.” [China did not immediately reveal the discovery of a new coronavirus in late December, but by 10 January, Chinese researchers made the sequence of the virus public.]  It just doesn’t comport with facts.

A:  I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?

Q: Most everyone thinks that you’re doing a remarkable job, but you’re standing there as the representative of truth and facts but things are being said that aren’t true and aren’t factual.

A: The way it happened is that after he made that statement [suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of a new coronavirus three to four months earlier], I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport,  because two or three months earlier would have been September. The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that. But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.

Q: You have not said China virus. [Trump frequently calls the cause of the spreading illness, known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)  a “China virus” or a “Chinese virus.”]

A: Ever.

Q. And you never will, will you?

A: No.

Q: At Friday’s press conference, you put your hands over your face when President Trump referred to the “deep State Department,” [a popular conspiracy theory]. It’s even become an internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did?

A: No comment.

Read the entire interview here.

When Government Inaction or Delay Shaped the Course of Infectious Disease

Alexandria

A Civil War field hospital in Virginia, 1862 (Library of Congress; Photo by James Gibson)

Over at The Atlantic, Jim Downs, professor of history at Connecticut College and author of Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction, writes about “the epidemics America got wrong.”  A taste:

By late March 1863, hundreds had died in Alexandria, Virginia. The mortality rate had almost doubled in just one night, and even quadrupled in other parts of the country. Three thousand people were dead in less than a month in North and South Carolina. The numbers in Louisiana, Georgia, and parts of Mississippi were equally as high. As a smallpox epidemic tore through the country, more than 49,000 people died from June 1865 to December 1867, the years an official count was kept.

Smallpox exploded at this time not because of a lack of protocols or knowledge—a vaccine even existed—but because political leaders simply didn’t care about the group that was getting sick. Government inaction or delay—due to racial discrimination, homophobia, stigma, and apathy—have shaped the course of many epidemics in our country. In the 1980s, for example, HIV spread as the government barely acknowledged its existence.

Now the United States is facing the coronavirus pandemic. Once again, the threat a disease poses has been magnified by the slow speed with which the government has reacted. And although this disease is not concentrated within any one community, it is poised to exacerbate existing inequalities. The lesson of past outbreaks of infectious diseases is that public officials must take them seriously, communicate honestly, and tend to the most vulnerable. If the United States has not always lived up to that standard, we now have the perfect opportunity to apply the lessons of our past mistakes.

Downs concludes:

History has shown us time and time again that epidemics worsen when the federal and state leaders with the power to implement preventive efforts fail to take it seriously. In the past few years, public-health and national-security officials have issued warnings that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic, but the government failed to act then. Now the coronavirus is in all 50 states. In the 1860s and in the 1980s, communities had to find a way to help themselves. Today the government has a chance to not make the same mistake again.

Read the entire piece here. And let’s keep learning from the past in these troubled times.

A “Teaching Pandemics” Syllabus

1918FluVictimsStLouis

Catherine Halley of JSTOR Daily has put together a very impressive collection of articles. Here is a taste of her “Teaching Pandemics Syllabus“:

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. In an effort to slow the spread of the disease, schools and universities across the world have transitioned to online instruction. Educators find themselves wondering how to engage their students amidst the developing crisis. We all find ourselves scrambling for information and, let’s face it, ways to make sense of our fear and anxiety.

While JSTOR Daily can’t provide new research on the novel coronavirus that’s causing COVID-19, we can offer important historical, scientific, and cultural context for this unprecedented situation. The essays and articles below—published over the last five years—look at the history of quarantine, contagious disease, viruses, infections, and epidemics. We’ll be updating this as we publish new content. As always, free access to the underlying scholarship cited in the stories is available to everyone.

Read the rest here.

Obama Warned Trump About the Possibility of a Global Pandemic

US-POLITICS-TRUMP-INAUGURATION-SWEARING IN

Check out Politico’s story on how the Obama administration tried to prepare the Trump administration for the potential of a global pandemic. Great reporting here by Nahal Toosi, Daniel Lippman, and Dan Diamond. They even uncovered the Powerpoint used by the Obama administration during the presentation:

Seven days before Donald Trump took office, his aides faced a major test: the rapid, global spread of a dangerous virus in cities like London and Seoul, one serious enough that some countries were imposing travel bans.

In a sober briefing, Trump’s incoming team learned that the disease was an emerging pandemic — a strain of novel influenza known as H9N2 — and that health systems were crashing in Asia, overwhelmed by the demand.

“Health officials warn that this could become the worst influenza pandemic since 1918,” Trump’s aides were told. Soon, they heard cases were popping up in California and Texas.

The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama.

And in the words of several attendees, the atmosphere was “weird” at best, chilly aworst.

POLITICO obtained documents from the meeting and spoke with more than a dozen attendees to help provide the most detailed reconstruction of the closed-door session yet. It was perhaps the most concrete and visible transition exercise that dealt with the possibility of pandemics, and top officials from both sides — whether they wanted to be there or not — were forced to confront a whole-of-government response to a crisis. The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was “paramount” — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration. That extraordinary turnover in the months and years that followed is likely one reason his administration has struggled to handle the very real pandemic it faces now, former Obama administration officials said.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump’s Shocking Answer to a Reporter’s Question at Today’s Press Conference

Watch Trump’s answer to Yamiche Alcindor‘s question during today’s coronavirus press conference:

Trump’s answer is quite shocking, and not just because he called Alcindor’s question “nasty.”  He seems to have no clue what’s going on in his own administration. In May 2018, John Bolton, the National Security Adviser at the time, eliminated the Global Health Security team in the National Security Council set up to in the wake of the Ebola outbreak.

Here is The Washington Post on May 10, 2018:

The top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic has left the administration, and the global health security team he oversaw has been disbanded under a reorganization by national security adviser John Bolton.

The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security. Ziemer’s departure, along with the breakup of his team, comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.

Ziemer’s last day was Tuesday, the same day a new Ebola outbreak was declared in Congo. He is not being replaced.

Pandemic preparedness and global health security are issues that require government-wide responses, experts say, as well as the leadership of a high-ranking official within the White House who is assigned only this role.

Read the rest here.

On May 8, 2018, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown also expressed his concerns in a two-page letter to Trump:

Sherrod Brown 1

Sherrod Brown 2

As Brown wrote, “In our globalized world, where diseases are never more than a plane ride away, we must do all we can to prepare for the next, inevitable outbreak and keep Americans safe from disease.”

Alcindor asked a question that deserved an answer. Trump’s response shows the incompetency of the Trump presidency.  I am reminded of homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem‘s remark yesterday:

 

Does Social Distancing Work?: Some Historical Perspective

Social Distancing

Over at the Microbial Menagerie, microbiologist Jennifer Tsang argues that social distancing helped to slow down the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Spanish flu) and it just might work for the Coronavirus as well.

Here is a taste of her piece:

…do social distancing measures actually work?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the response of several cities during the 1918 influenza pandemic. A 2007 paper in PNAS documented the effects of the 1918 pandemic in various US cities based on when public health interventions began, what the interventions were, and how many interventions they enforced. Examples of public health interventions include isolation policies, closures of schools, churches, and other venues, bans of public gatherings, and more.

Cities that began interventions earlier had significantly lower peaks of pneumonia and influenza-related mortality. And cities that implemented four or more interventions had a lower median peak weekly death rate (65/100,000 people) versus 146/100,000 people from cities with three or fewer interventions.

The response between Philadelphia and St. Louis made a great case that social distancing does work. In Philadelphia, the first case was reported on Sept 17 and authorities downplayed the significance of the case. They even allowed a city-wide parade to happen on Sept. 28. School closures and bans on public gatherings did not happen until Oct.3, 16 days since the first case. Meanwhile, St. Louis had its first case on Oct 5 and the city implemented social distancing measures two days later.

What was the effect? The 14-day difference in response time between the two cities represents approximately 3-5 doubling times for the epidemic. The peak weekly death rate from pneumonia and influenza-related deaths was 257/100,000 people in Philadelphia. The same metric in St. Louis was 31/100,000.

Read the entire piece here.  HT: John Haas on Facebook.