As President of the US, how would you have handled the COVID-19 pandemic?

There’s a lot of criticism of Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, but I haven’t seen much discussion of what he should have done differently. So, I’ll start:

  1. I would have immediately announced a crash program to develop a vaccine or vaccines, and appointed a well-credentialed bureaucrat like Fauci or Redfield to coordinate the program between all the agencies. I would fund the program with 5 billion dollars (to start). If Congress would not approve the funds, I would use an declaration of emergency to get them.

  2. I would direct the the HHS and CDC to immediately create and disseminate PSAs on how to minimize transmission of the virus.

What would you do?

Get somebody in charge of supplies, especially masks/gloves and other PPE. Figure out what is in the national stockpile and where you can get more, and start the procurement process before the middle of March.

I would have pulled all the experts in a room and said “You’re experts, come up with recommendations.” Then I would do the recommendations.

The question for the pros is, what do you do when the experts turn out to be mistaken? Answer: Ask them why they made a mistake, ask them how they’ll rectify it going forward, and then listen to the experts again.

If the experts make a mistake, that doesn’t mean they stopped being experts, and it doesn’t mean I started being one. The important thing is to reinforce that this is a changing situation, we have to expect the unexpected, and we still listen to the experts even if they make mistakes on the learning curve.

Honestly, I think I can answer this in 2 points.

  1. Shut the fuck up and let the scientists/doctors/CDC do all the talking. The president opining on solutions does nothing but politicize things, even if you’re not a raving shitstain like Trump. Even empty platitudes would make it political simply by the nature of being a politician. In Illinois the Gov gave positive, useful pressers where he passed along the expert’s recommendations, but it frankly it was probably waste of time… let’s just get it from the source.
  2. Use the Defense Production Act on Day 1, like the second you saw what China was dealing with back in December/January, to produce staggering numbers of masks, sanitizer and ventilators. We should have had 10 million disposable masks sitting in warehouses in every state and large city on March 1. Instead we had people like Fauci equivocating on citizens wearing masks early on for fear of taking them out of the hands of hospital staff. That’s probably the biggets failure we had.
  1. I would put my campaign on hold.
  2. I would ask all governors to either follow CDC guidelines, or explain how they plan to isolate their state from the ones that are following those guidelines.
  3. I would publicize these statements.
  4. I would allow exemptions for those that can prove that there are both immune and that they cannot transmit the virus.
  5. No religious exemptions without a signed note from their deity of choice.
  6. No business exemption without a written plan of compliance and an agreement to immediately shut down if such compliance is not met.

I would have started two years ago by NOT disbanding the Pandemic Response Team. Trump decided that since there was no pandemic at the time, that they were basically just sitting around getting paid for doing nothing, and he’s too smart of a businessman to let that happen.

And early on, I’d have made a series of PSA’s urging Americans to wear masks and follow social distancing, pitching it as the patriotic thing to do. “Americans have always pulled together when times got tough,” that sort of thing. It would have prevented a lot of the BS that led to lower levels of compliance.

Sounds pretty much exactly the process they followed in New Zealand

Sounds pretty much exactly what they did in British Columbia. The premier of the province shut up, except to work with the opposition parties to put sensible legislation in motion.
The Health minister mostly shut up, and mainly attended press conferences to introduce:

Dr. Bonnie Henry, our provincial health officer, medical doctor, worked in Uganda during the Ebola crisis there, operational led during SARS in Toronto, planned public health for the Vancouver olympics, and on and on.

Dr. Henry was the one who did all the talking. She’s responsible for communicating the sensible things that the province did, and she’s responsible for the good numbers we enjoy today, and the fact that our economy has not collapsed.
She did the talking. People listened.

Our politicians shut up.

Honestly? Pretty badly. I think I would have made a lot of the same mistakes as Trump did, although for different reasons (mainly, because my instinctive reaction to seeing a bunch of people collectively freaking out about something is to assume that OF COURSE they are being silly and overdramatic, and they need to be told to buck up and snap out of it because it probably won’t be a big deal. It is now safe to say that would have been exactly the wrong reaction, and I know that intellectually – and yet, pretty much every time I log onto Facebook I still find myself wanting to tell my entire friend-group to buck up and snap out of it.)

That said, I would have been in favor of giving people a lot more than $1,200 if we’re going to ask them to sit at home and not work for an indefinite amount of time, and it would certainly never occur to me to start a culture war over mask-wearing, so at least that’s something?

I would have shut down incoming air travel, and not just from China. Only exceptions for US citizens and perm. residents, who would have to quarantine for three weeks at least. (If I were trump, I’d have put them up in one of my hotels.) Conference call with the Governors asking for a full shut-down for three weeks. Ramp up PPE, tests, contact tracing with a provision for interstate tracing. In fact, ask people to limit interstate travel. Any Governors that didn’t go along would look like idiots now. (Kind of like DeSantis.)

Also, be very clear that the response will change as better information becomes available. Things that seemed like the best response at the time, will later be found to be sub-optimal, or straight up wrong. This is a complex concept, and goes against many people’s desire to seem decisive and unwavering. However, it is the job of a leader to convey these concepts, and make them understood.

“We are taking the best course of action with the information we have. As more information and science comes in we will adjust what we are doing in accordance with that information. Some things that we’re doing may turn out not to be necessary, some things we are not doing may turn out to be important.” Or something like that, I’m not a speech writer.

The most important thing as President is to take responsibility. The buck does have to stop with me. As much as it is critical to give space to the scientists and experts to give the best and most relevant advice they can with the info they have, and to trust them, it is the elected officials who have to transparently either adopt their recommendations or explain that ‘well that’s great but we have to factor in this and that as well, and that’s why we need to do ABFG instead of ABC’. And they wear the consequences, as is right in a democracy.

At the heart of the disturbing catastrophe that is Trump’s brain and his handling of the pandemic is the unclear equation that juggles science, economy, politics and sheer incompetence and arse-covering, so that it is impossible to predict which of those will be applied in any situation on any given day.

Certainty, stability and resolve are what the successful leaders have given in this crisis. Give those out and you get trust in return. Watching Australian, NZ and various other successful national and state leaders during this, there was no shortage of uncertainty and talking up the worst case, but it was their willingness to say ‘we don’t know but this is how and on what basis decisions will be made’ that made a big difference. We can get behind someone [me!] who does that and doesn’t just blame-shift every time my last stupid idea imploded.

January: Immediate travel ban of all international transportation. Cancellation of nearly all international flights; everyone who comes in must be subjected to immediate Covid test (if such a test were available or possible at all) and mandatory house-arrest-style quarantine for 2 weeks. Build huge temporary camps at international airports to house travelers, if you can’t really trust them to quarantine well at home. (If someone must quarantine at home, then they must wear GPS ankle trackers.) Use martial powers to order immediate national production of sanitizer, masks, PPE, ventilators, etc. as quickly as possible. Anyone who is infected, is immediately contact-traced.

February: Everyone in all 50 states is ordered to wear masks anytime outdoors. (Try to cajole all 50 governors into going along.) Social-distancing protocols in every public location - make it ten feet instead of just six feet. Severe criminal penalties for all who fail to comply with mask requirements. Shut down all schools and non-essential businesses. Get every single major pharmaceutical company going in the race for a vaccine; fund them with several billion dollars apiece. Get big chemical trucks spraying sanitizer everywhere in big cities and medium-sized towns.

March: Pass CARES Act stimulus bill, but instead of just $1,200 stimulus checks, make it something like $5,000 instead. And drastically trim back on the money spent in aid towards useless industries like cruise lines. Much less money towards payroll employee loans. Payroll tax holiday, too. Announce that all schools, sports, public events are canceled nationwide until further notice. No NFL, no NBA, no MLB, no college or high school sports allowed.

Goal is fewer than 50,000 infected and 1,000 dead by year’s end.

President, Vice President, all administration officials and staff, wear masks in public at all times, as an example!

There are two parts to the OP’s question. What you have done differently to Trump, and what you would have done if you didn’t have anyone to compare your actions against. The latter is perhaps more interesting. Especially given the extraordinarily partisan nature of US politics. One might ask “what do you think Obama would have done if Corvid-19 had hit four years ago.” Could, should, would - all different things.

Given the nature of US politics, any president needs to act to depoliticise the crisis. Easier said than done. The temptation to stack the deck so that your side always looks better is never going to go away. As the crisis comes to a close such behaviour becomes inevitable even when the worst times saw a properly unified approach.

It does worry me whenever I read a news report from the US when any statement by any politician always includes his or her political affiliation. No matter what there is always a ® or (D) after their name. As if the reader needs a way to quickly decide if that politician’s utterances are to be applauded or derided on the spot. Comparing action against the pandemic based on the political colour of a state’s government means things are already headed to hell.

So, what does any president need to do? He needs to act to unify and depoliticise. Clearly for Trump that is starting with a distinct handicap. But he isn’t president, I am. So I am going to get every governor of every state into a room, and thrash out how a unified response is going to be managed. That is going to be hellishly hard, and will take a level of political adeptness that few can manage. But I have no choice. I know that roughly half of the people in that room minimally want me dead, and many want me to suffer on the way. Many will have serious misgivings, and many will see this entire cooperative thing as something that threatens their own political survival back home.
But, the federal government is not the entire US government. It has specific capabilities and responsibilities. Most of all it can back up the states, and can act to hold together the economic health of the country. Each state needs to be given a clear path and assurances about how the federal government will cover their backs whilst they get on with job of managing the medical crisis. This means consultation not just about the medical situation but about economic help.
Going into this a president will see the economic disaster looming. Clearly this is going to be bad. Once the country is past the medical crisis the long term economic damage can be huge. Partisan politics is going to be playing hardball here. A conservative president is going to be battling his own party on the level of aid to the needy, and a liberal president will be battling his own party on the need for aid to the corporate sector.
And finally, the job of the president is to carry the country. That means being front and centre for the entire crisis. Taking the blame when things go bad, passing out praise to others when things go well. All the things that are counter-intuitive for a professional politician. But carrying the populace with you allows you to get otherwise unpalatable measures performed.
But finally, any serious politician, one who has any clue about playing the game at the highest level, must realise that the chance of performing well is the greatest political gift they could ever receive. This is when politicians rise to the level of statesmen and have statues erected in town squares. Take control, be seen to take control, and work your arse off to get the best possible outcome. There is no party politics in this. Whether your are red or blue, the manner in which the crisis is managed will be identical. However, curiously, conservative politicians generally have an advantage, as the expression goes, “Only Nixon could go to China.”

Same here. And I’d make a point of being seen following the recommendations. If it’s to wear a mask, then I’d be on TV wearing a mask, and everybody around me would be doing it. I’d have restructured the stimulus package to target the people that actually need help, and imposed some form of means testing to qualify for assistance. I’d split direct financial aid into food/housing vouchers and some cash.

I would believe in science for starters. Every bad decision made up to this point has been the result of a leader being skeptical of expertise. There’s no point in talking about specific ‘would or would not have’ unless we deal frankly with that problem.

I would’ve quadrupled the pandemic team (which I DIDN’T fire in 2018).

To be fair, some of the expert advice has been highly questionable. The WHO claimed that human-to-human transmission was unlikely (it is highly contagious,) took months to acknowledge that the virus is airborne, Dr. Fauci didn’t tout masks much at first (but that was because he was trying to save them for healthcare workers.)

Trying to figure out how to multiquote, but haven’t gotten it down yet.

Pretty much, what I’d do has been said.

I’d believe in evidence-based medicine, to begin with.

I wouldn’t have fired the pandemic response team when I arrived in office. I have wondered if it’s possible that Trump may have been ignorant of past pandemics, like the 1918 flu, polio in the 1950s, and the extent to which AIDS was not contained due to Reagan’s inaction. I know he lived through the 50s and AIDS in the 80s, but he is ignorant of a lot of things you’d think he’d know.

I would have been reading my briefings, so I’d have known about the coronavirus when it was still just in China. I might have taken steps to stop incoming flights from China, or allowed only citziens and permanent residents to fly in, and then quarantined them-- but exactly what I would have done would have been based on the advice of…

All the experts in microbiology and medicine I would have pulled together, in addition the the existing experts on the pandemic response team-- who by the way, would not have been “sitting around,” but studying past pandemics, and current epidemics. I probably would have lent teams to areas, including areas in other countries, experiencing local outbreaks of whatever, for their edification.

Once my team was pulled together, I would have found a leader specifically for pandemic response who was not me. I would have stayed involved, and as the head of state, would have had to implement ideas, but would have followed the team’s advice. I would have remained responsible, but not in complete charge, if that makes sense, because this requires a very special type of expertise.

I would model any behavior I expected of the population, as much as possible, including masking, distancing, not shaking hands, getting tested, not traveling, and conferencing virtually when feasible.

I would allow myself to be featured in PSAs, albeit, not all of them.

I wouldn’t say stupid things, like “inject yourself with bleach,” or “Americans will get only American vaccines.”

I would not tell governors that state solutions were up to them. I would insist that the federal government, and the individual state governments, were on one team.