NDN Blog

Tests for Me, Not for Thee

Last week, the White House made a significant attempt to portray “normalcy” - we saw meetings in the Oval Office in close quarters with no social distancing and no masks; the Vice President began official travel again, still with no mask; and the White House press briefing returned, again with no masks.  It was a show, a very purposeful show, of our return to before, of opening up. 

To make all of this happen, with the COVID infection rate in the US remaining the highest of any major developed country in the world per capita (and not falling), the White House created a regime of ubiquitous, rapid testing for the President and Vice President and anyone they come in contact with. The problem with this story, of course, is that this type of testing regime is something that the President has explicitly said he is not attempting to provide for the people of the United States.  If this is what it takes to “re-open,” and we know that the American people don’t have it and won’t at best have it for many months, why is the President working so hard to undermine and end the stay-at-home policies which have worked to slow the virus?  As Simon said in this Washington Post story from over the weekend, the President did more last week to show us how far we are from returning to normal than how close it all is. 

As we’ve been writing for months now, once the virus started spreading here in the US (which we now know was in mid to late January), the President had two choices - mandatory stay at home orders, and/or an aggressive testing/tracing/isolation regime like the one South Korea implemented immediately.  Today, he has still chosen to do neither, and as the President has essentially ended the national stay at home period, it is imperative that Congress force the President to adopt a national testing/tracing/isolation system.  Without such a national system, it is going to be very hard to slow the current far too rapid spread of COVID and give people confidence that their government is doing everything it can to keep them safe in this period before a vaccine comes. If these two things aren't the case, we will have enormous trouble beginning the recovery that the President so desperately wants. 

From the very beginning, the President’s response to COVID has been outside of science and reason, and full of magical and wishful thinking. Not surprisingly, it just hasn’t worked. Poll after poll show the President’s approval rating plummeting now, frontline governors 20-30 points more popular than him, and broad majority support for more aggressive measures to attack the virus.  What remains so difficult to understand is why the President refuses to do what he knows needs to be done - which is why, now that Congress has begun to return, winning Phase II of our nation’s response to COVID should be the highest priority for both Speaker Pelosi and Senator McConnell.  If the President refuses to fight the battle against COVID, they must, along with the nation’s governors, take the lead.  

On COVID, What's Next for the US, Trump and the 2020 Election

Phase I of America’s response to COVID is coming to an end, and there is little question that it has been a disaster for the country and increasingly for the Republican Party.  The numbers are staggering - 50,000 lives lost, depression level unemployment numbers, and historic levels of debt.  As we wrote in our new Thursday poll roundup, recent polling has begun to once again show broad dissatisfaction with the President and his Party - if the election were held today, Democrats would almost certainly win both the White House and the Senate. A new New York Times story confirms that the GOP establishment is increasingly worried about this very thing this fall. 

All of this takes us to the question that is likely more than any other going to define the 2020 election - why has America’s response to COVID been so ineffective, and will Trump learn from his extraordinary missteps and course correct?

There are two principle ways that a nation can fight a pandemic like COVID-19: mandatory stay at home policies to slow the spread of the virus and a national testing/tracing/isolation program that allows things to stand backup.  Remarkably, five months after the US first learned of COVID, the President has chosen to do neither of these things.  He has refused to stand up a national testing/tracing regime and, through his recent embrace of the very unpopular “Liberate!” movement, has actually worked to undermine the stay at home orders which have done so much to slow the spread of the virus after it was allowed to run wildly across the country due to his early inaction. That the President chose to essentially call an end to the national stay at home efforts, ones he didn’t call for and wasn’t enforcing, prior to establishing a plan for Phase II - standing up the country - remains one of the most reckless things that our very reckless President has ever done. 

America now has no plan for what happens next; we have no Phase II.  In fact, the President has repeatedly said that it isn’t his job to manage this and instead that it is up to the states.  But do we leave it to the states to repel foreign armies, defeat terrorism, counter cyber threats from abroad, hunt down serial killers, respond to extreme weather events, or even, let’s say, fashion an economic response to COVID-19? No, of course we don’t leave it to the states to fight such extraordinary battles on their own; and nor did we fund or design our public health system to do so in a case of a pandemic.  There is no way forward here without the President and his team leading us.  Or perhaps Congress forcing him to do so if he continues to refuse to do what’s necessary now.

Let’s talk for a bit about what a national Phase II plan could look like.  It can and should include:

1) A national testing/tracing/isolation plan

2) A permanent fix to the medical supply chain

3) A national approach to social distancing and masking at work and in public spaces

4) Clear rules regarding international and domestic travel and foreign entrants into the US

5) Immunity certification, if immunity in fact exists

6) Creative solutions to giving our young people and students something to do this summer and potentially this fall

7/ A plan to ensure the 2020 elections take place without challenge

8) Safe harbor liability protections for entities which adhere to agreed-upon national guidelines

What we have to do before standing up the country in the next few weeks and months is incredible - hundreds of thousands of tracers have to be hired, hundreds of millions of tests produced, an entire type of testing not even approved yet by the FDA - antibody testing - has to be launched, rules regarding travel have to be established, decisions about coming testing and isolation regimes being mandatory or voluntary have to be debated and settled on...

It is hard to see how all of this will be established across the US as quickly as we need without Congress starting to get involved and helping to lead and fund Phase II.  The urgency of a true national response is perhaps best understood using an example.  Let's say that in a few weeks I travel from DC to Boston for a meeting.  While there I test positive for COVID.  What happens next? Am I quarantined in Boston? If so, where? If a hotel, who pays? We know that the MA-based tracers would work to establish my contacts locally, but how will my tracing down here in DC/MD/VA happen? Who is responsible for that, and how are these efforts coordinated? Let’s assume I took a plane to Boston.  Everyone who was on that plane will have to be traced and tested.  But they have now scattered to 10 other states - who does this work and coordinates it all?

The point of this example is that there is no possibility that the US can stand itself back up as we all envision without the federal government playing a leading role.  If it doesn’t, then we may not be able to travel inside the US (let alone outside) until we have a vaccine.  For why would Massachusetts, now without community transmission, accept any traveler from parts of the US where the virus is still live and spreading? Or is the idea that MA would essentially set up a border, and test everyone who comes into the state? To enable travel, even potentially across state lines for a daily commute, the public must have confidence that we have a way of effectively and rapidly isolating new infections, and removing those people from society - a confusing, erratic, and inefficient state by state regime isn’t going to cut it, and nor should the American people accept it - we are one nation, and should act like one. 

What is worrisome about where the President’s head is at right now is that in a recent press briefing he weighed in on all this, and endorsed the idea of internal borders.  It was a bit shocking at the time, but it is pragmatic recognition that if he does not set up a single national system then we will break into parts, separate regions or states, for what could be two years. 

Okay, you get it.  Phase II is going to be hard, really hard, and we are way behind where we should be.  Important pieces of the plan are months away from being ready and critical debates haven’t even begun.  And we have to get it right to stand our society and economy back up.  The President’s current approach, like his approach to Phase I, is profoundly stupid and unserious.  Congress needs to step in now, and work to forge a cogent and effective plan for Phase II.  It should consult with the nation’s governors, particularly from the most impacted states, and lead where the President refuses to. 

This has been a terrible few months for this great nation.  But in order to make sure this tragedy doesn’t become something which damages the nation beyond repair, our leaders must come together in the coming days around a single national approach to Phase II of our response to COVID - living with it and returning to work in the months before we have a vaccine.   

US Not Ready to Open, Trump's Poll Numbers Continue to Slide

Monday 4/20 Notes On 2020 - While polling remains bouncy right now, Trump’s bump is largely gone and things have reverted back to about where they were prior to the COVID crisis - Democrats with a 6-9 point structural advantage, similar to where things stood in 2018.  Consider how similar these spreads/margins are:

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Yes, we have a long way to go in this challenging year. But in the coming months, one can easily imagine Biden gaining 1-3 more points from consolidating the party behind him and winning the nomination, and Trump losing a few as the costs and pain of his mismanagement of COVID become more evident.  That movement would put us closer to the 2018 vote numbers than we are today, and would put the White House and Senate in Democratic hands.

America Still Needs A COVID Plan - Given the structure of this race right now, it is very hard to understand what President Trump is choosing to do on COVID. The data is pretty clear that the American people believe he blew the early response to COVID, and do not support a fast re-opening.  Stay at home efforts are very popular, as are the front line governors who’ve made the tough calls for their residents.  So, from a political and public health standpoint, his attacks on both seem stupid and misguided. Trump’s only shot to win in 2020 at this point is to successfully manage this next phase of our response to COVID - the re-opening.  He had a second chance, a chance to rise to the moment and lead us through this terrible scourge.  But instead he seems to be retreating to a place of ideological extremism, Hannityville let’s call it, which will almost guarantee that we fail at this next critical phase of battling the virus.   

Consider all that should be in place prior to the US re-opening - a federally run testing/tracing/isolation regime with wide deployment of far more tests and tests which yield results in minutes, not days; a stronger, better equipped, and better prepared US health care system; a national approach to social distancing/masking at work and in communities; some strategy for what parents and communities are supposed to do with young people this summer and perhaps this fall; the establishment of a clear national process for certifying immunity if immunity does in fact exist; clarity on how international and domestic travel is going to work; and a plan to ensure our election takes place thiis November as is Constitutionally required, free from foreign interference and virus proofed. At this point, the President doesn’t seem to be committed to doing any of these things; in fact, his central strategy now seems to be focused on undermining the popular state and local stay at home regimes which have successfully slowed the spread of the virus. 

Throughout this COVID crisis, the President has repeatedly expressed what can generously be described as magical thinking - the virus would just go away, it wouldn’t come here, we have millions of tests, etc.  In what may be a looming tragedy for the country, this past week he seems to have once again chosen magical thinking - Liberate!/Open - over sound science and experience from what has worked in other nations.  What remains remarkable about it all is that he is not just acting outside science and reason, he is acting outside of polling too - which is why 2020 is shaping up to be a very bad year both for the United States and for what’s left of the Republican Party. 

Analysis - 2020 Battlefield Favors Joe Biden and the Democrats

With the general election seven months away, and the field set, let’s look at where things stand.  With the caveat that we are likely to see a lot of volatility this year, the current landscape clearly favors Joe Biden and the Democrats.  All of the following polls are from this week and our expectation is that Biden gains a few points in the coming days with Sanders getting out. All of the aggregates are from this morning.

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Note the consistent 6-9 margin for Biden and the Democrats, suggesting that this is where the race is sitting today.  Trump trails in FL and WI, two must-win states for him.  It isn’t a pretty picture for him or the Republicans.

The Senate picture is also not going the GOP’s way right now.  Though the polling is now a few weeks old, there are public polls showing Democratic challengers beating incumbent GOPers in AZ, CO, ME, and NC.  Governor Bullock enters his race in Montana tied

If the election were held today, Joe Biden would handily beat Donald Trump, and the Senate would likely flip from GOP to Democratic.  We have a long way to go to the election of course, but right now the landscape very much favors the Democrats. 

Another Republican Recession, Landscape Still Leans Blue

As we’ve written to you before, we aren’t going to be paying too much attention to polling these next few weeks for it will no doubt be very volatile and noisy. Trump does appear to have gotten a small bump in recent days, though the fundamental structure of the race hasn’t changed - he’s minus 4.5 in 538’s job approval tracker, down 9 to Biden in new Fox News polling, and the Congressional Generic remains at -7.4 for the GOP.  The national landscape still favors the Dems. 

We are doubtful that Trump is in for any kind of sustained bump.  Regardless of Trump’s daily pressers, the cold hard truth is that the President failed to take action against COVID-19 when he should have; is playing a dangerous and sadistic game with the states; and his plan is still inadequate for what’s needed today.  The numbers that Americans will be focusing on in the coming months won’t be his daily TV ratings or job approval but COVID infection and death rates, the amount of equipment moved to the health care front lines, unemployment and uninsured rates, and GDP growth.  If these measures are good, he will have a good election.  If they aren’t, he won’t. 

That Trump is the third consecutive GOP President to see a recession and exploding deficits on their watch speaks to something we’ve been exploring in recent years - that the two parties just aren’t the same and aren’t mirrors of one another.  Since this new age of globalization began in the late 1980s, Democratic Presidents have produced growth, jobs, rising wages, and lower annual deficits.  The two Bush Presidents and Trump will have produced recessions and hard times, and W Bush and Trump will have overseen two of the worst economic moments in American history.  That Democrats keep getting the big things right in this new age, and the Republicans so disastrously wrong, simply must be a more significant area of debate and discussion in the months ahead. 

Where Are the Tests?

The early troubles that the CDC had in standing up a national COVID-19 testing regime have been well documented.  But in early March, the Administration told us that these problems had been fixed.  The Vice President promised 5 million tests in place by March 13th.  Other Administration officials promised tens of millions by late March.  Daily testing rates climbed, and on March 25th we hit 100,000 tests a day for the first time.  Even though many of these tests had ridiculously long turnarounds, 3-7 days, the much needed national testing system seemed to be in the process of being stood up.

But something has happened.  Daily testing growth stopped, and we are now stuck at around 100,000 tests a day (see data below).  Despite the promise of millions of tests, the US has only conducted 1.1m over the past ten weeks, and at current rates will not complete 5m tests until May 11th or so, a full two months after the Vice President said 5m tests were in place, ready to go.  

Given that to stand America up from the crisis the nation will need hundreds of millions of inexpensive and rapid tests, we simply have to understand what is happening here.  The answers provided by the White House are inadequate, and hundreds of thousands of American lives are in the balance here.  We simply have to get testing right or the crisis will get far worse and our recovery will be far more difficult.  There is no margin of error here. 

If the White House cannot explain what is happening with the US testing regime today, the House should conduct a virtual hearing Friday, and request that Dr. Birx testify under oath.  Something has gone wrong, again, with our national testing regime, and the American people deserve both answers and a clear plan for how to make it right."

You can find more from NDN on the need for a national plan to tame the virus here, and more on the need for better testing here

US Daily Testing Numbers - data from the COVID Tracking Project:

Mar 20 - 35k (this is one week after Pence said 5m tests would be in place)

Mar 21 - 44k

Mar 22 - 45k

Mar 23 - 66k

Mar 24 - 65k

Mar 25 - 113k

Mar 26 - 107k

Mar 27 - 108k

Mar 28 - 114k

Mar 29 - 95k

Mar 30 - 113k

Mar 31 - 98k

April 1 - 101k (1.2m total over 10 weeks!)

May 11 - 5m (at current rates of testing)

With Stimulus Done, Congress Must Now Focus on Defeating COVID

America will not be able to stand its economy and society back up until the COVID virus is contained.  With exploding infection rates now across the country, it is clear that the President and his team have failed in their fight to tame the virus.  With the hard work of providing for the US economy behind it, Congress must now focus on crafting a successful national approach that will allow us to fight the virus in the coming days but also in the many months that remain in this difficult struggle.

There is broad agreement about what needs to be done, right now:  

1) Surge equipment/beds/workers to the frontlines

2) Implement a national 21 day stay at home order

3) Crash a universal rapid testing/isolation regime like in South Korea

To put pressure on the Administration to finally craft a comprehensive response to the virus, Speaker Pelosi should form a political alliance with the governors in the most afflicted states.  By working together, they can create both a more effective national strategy to defeat COVID, but also begin to show a sense of common purpose which we will need to develop if we are to prevail against this dangerous threat.

There have been many Trumpian missteps over the past ten weeks which have allowed the virus to get out of control, but the greatest of all may be his pitting state against state and community against community; to prevail against a pandemic all of us must do our part and work together.  There is no us and them – only us.  The Speaker can exhibit the kind of leadership required to prevail against COVID by forging a new “war time” alliance of the House and top governors, and force the Administration to finally use the awesome power of the United States government to do what should have been done months ago.  We know what needs to be done – let’s get it done in the days ahead.

With New Data, The Costs of the President's Failed COVID19 Response Becoming Clearer

As more economic and public health data becomes available, the more the nation is becoming aware of the extraordinary costs of the President’s ongoing failure to craft a successful national response to the COVID19 virus.

While Congress is the midst of addressing our daunting short term economic challenges, far more must be done in the coming days to stop the spread of the virus. 

Nine weeks into this crisis and the nation still has no plan to stop COVID.  Our elected leaders from across the country should come together around a plan as ambitious as the economic plan close to passing today.  While there are many good ideas on the table, NDN believes there are four key things we must do right now to prevent COVID from doing unimaginable harm to the nation in the days ahead:  

1) Surge supplies/beds/staff to the medical front lines

2) Implement a national 3 week stay at home program

3) Crash/stand up a national testing/isolation regime like South Korea’s

4) Fund a “Manhattan Project” for a vaccine/therapeutics/testing/equipment both for COVID and to prepare for future pandemics

Our nation’s leaders shouldn’t accept the President’s ongoing failure to respond to the COVID threat; all of us should demand he step up here and do what the American people and all of the experts expect him to do – tame COVID, and then stand our society and economy back up later this spring and summer.

Can the governors of the big, afflicted states band togethter to create a pressure campaign against our flailing President? Work with Senate and House leaders, leaders of other nations? If the President won't lead America now, others must. 

A New Role for Elected Officials — Community Truth Teller, COVID Navigator

This essay first appeared on Medium on Wed, 3/25. 

How a nation manages its information landscape in a pandemic is of vital importance. As we are learning, the ill-informed acts of a few can have a dramatic impact on the rest of us. We are now, and will be for perhaps the next eighteen months to two years, truly all in this together in ways which are not always so in a big, diverse nation like our own.

Thus, I think it is important for Democrats and responsible Republicans at all levels of government to dramatically step up their engagement with their constituents in the coming months. With travel and traditional legislating being significantly cut back, our elected leaders have more time to be using modern communications tools to become very present in the lives of their communities, at a time when accurate information can be the difference between life and death. Using tools like Zoom that allow large face to face conversations will not just be effective at communicating vital information, but will also keep the human connection that so many of us are struggling to maintain.

It’s my hope that in the coming days, our elected leaders across the country take responsibility for their community’s information environment, and dramatically raise their levels of engagement. We’ve seen examples of this from Governors like Andrew Cuomo, JB Pritzker, Jay Insee, Gavin Newsom, and Gina Raimondo. Joe Biden has built a TV studio in his house, and is now running his campaign from here. A new Politico story out this morning by Sarah Ferris details the efforts of recently elected House Members to lead important conversations back home. She reports:

“[Rep. Dean] Philips, a Minnesota Democrat, said the forced isolation was “strangely accommodating” for his job at this moment, which consists of a lot of phone calls but zero hours of fundraising or lengthy flights to Washington.“ There’s a silver lining in this,” he said. “It’s fair to say I’m communicating with more constituents, more broadly and more deeply, right now, than I’ve been able to in a year and a half in Congress.

The leaders of every level of government, from the US Senate to city councils, should establish a process to help their colleagues transition to and succeed in this new model of communications and leadership. State parties can do this too, as can organizations like the Democratic Governors Organization and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. We should have a sense of urgency about this project, seeing it as just as important as surging equipment to frontline hospitals or standing up our national testing regime.

This national project is particularly important given the torrent of misinformation, lies, and magical thinking coming from the President’s Twitter feed and press briefing each day. There is no question that the President’s failure to have an honest conversation with the American people over these past few months has left us all more unprepared than we should have been; and allowed people to unknowingly take actions which endangered themselves and others. The President’s failure to be honest with all of us, to prepare us for what was to come, and to encourage us take prudent steps to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities has been among the biggest failures of his response to COVID — and it is one we must learn from.

I also think that we Democrats have historically undervalued the importance of “official communications” in our understanding of how we talk to constituents and voters. Some of this has to do with consultants not making money off of videos produced in legislative offices or tele-town halls, thus creating a financial incentive for prioritizing campaign communications. I’m not saying ads don’t matter; but we can do both, and we should have a realistic understanding of the positives and negatives of each approach.

In the coming months, our leaders need to be patriots, not partisans, and really lean into this new COVID-era leadership and communications model. It is what people need now, it will save lives, and it will help us learn how to live in a new way. We should not underestimate the collective power of thousands of elected officials at all levels of government leaning in and talking to their communities honestly and forthrightly to provide the kind of information corrective to Trump that the nation needs if we are to defeat the virus in the days ahead. Beating this thing will be the work of all of us, not just our leaders in DC — this one truly requires everyone to do their part.

The President’s plan to combat COVID19 has failed. Congress must step in — now

The US had two choices on how to combat COVID-19 - a national shut down or an universal testing/isolation regime like in South Korea. Nine weeks into the crisis, the US has done neither, and so now we have some of the fastest growing infection rates that any country has experienced since the pandemic began.

Time is running out to prevent the virus from becoming something which fundamentally alters the American way of life. The President has made it clear that he cannot lead us through the crisis, and thus is it time for Congress to take responsibility for developing and implementing a true national plan. We only have a few days to get this done.

In recent days, expert opinion has converged about what we must do:

1) Surge supplies/beds/staff to the medical front lines

2) Implement a national 3 week stay at home program

3) Crash/stand up a national testing/isolation regime like in South Korea

4) Fund a “Manhattan Project” for a vaccine/therapeutics/testing/equipment both for COVID and to prepare for future pandemics

The economy and our society cannot stand back up until the virus is tamed. Washington’s focus on stimulus and worker support, while important, should have come after a national plan to combat the virus was in place. We have no choice now except to work on both in the days ahead.

It is critical that Congress also find time to pass the Klobuchar/Wyden bill that would help institute a national vote by mail program for the 2020 election. While so much else is up in the air, Americans should have the certainty of knowing that our democracy marches on, undaunted.

Finally, we need to focus far more attention on our young people. Both to help them better protect themselves from getting the virus and to help them and their families cope with what could be difficult months at home, away from school.

The President’s plan has failed, and Congress must step in now to develop a clear national strategy to tame the virus. There is no higher priority in the days ahead.

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