Leaked U.S. Document Assumes 18-Month COVID Pandemic - Gov. Sends Dire Warning, SB Cases Climb to 9
A 100-page U.S. government response plan for the COVID-19 outbreak assumes the pandemic will last “18 months or longer” and may include “multiple waves of illness.”
The “U.S. Government COVID-19 Response Plan,” dated March 13 and first reported on by the New York Times, also projects “significant shortages for government, private sector and individual U.S. consumers” because of “supply chain and transportation impacts.”
Amid a barrage of sometimes conflicting and uncertain information coming from the White House, the planning document provides perhaps the clearest look yet at how government professionals view the scope, scale and timeline of the pandemic that in the space of a few weeks has become the touchstone of day-to-day life in the U.S.
“Increasing COVID-19 suspected or confirmed cases in the U.S. will result in increased hospitalizations among at-risk individuals, straining the health care system,” the planning document also presumes. It is labeled "unclassified" but "not for public distribution or release."
As the impact of the pandemic reached into every corner of the nation’s medical, social, economic and political activity on Thursday, there were these new developments:
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and other officials announced there now are nine local cases, with five in North County and three on the South Coast. It is unclear where the ninth case, reported in late afternoon, lives. Noozhawk's story on the new cases is here.
Governor Gavin Newsom, in letters to Donald Trump and congressional leaders seeking federal aid, said that 56 percent of California’s population – more than 25 million people – could become infected in the next eight weeks, absent mitigation efforts, as he issued a statewide "shelter in place" order. The LA Times story on the governor's efforts is here.
Federal planners in the "not for public release" game plan, set forth a strategy for what they termed "a nimble, effective COVID -19 response," aimed at mobilizing the full weight of the U.S. government against the pandemic, amid complaints by governors and medical professionals about shortages of materiel and a lack of action.
"Whole of government." The plan sets forth a complex set of “coordinated federal response activities” in a document bristling with government acronyms and filled with byzantine organizational and flow charts. The Department of Health and Human Services is named as the lead agency for carrying out the response, under direction of a White House task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.
Until this week, Trump repeatedly sought to underestimate the threat posed by COVID-19. The professional planners who prepared the document, however, reached across the full sweep of the federal government to outline a strategy to fight the pandemic.
Although termed a “whole of government” approach, little of the plan has yet been put into effect, despite the pleas from states across the country, according to the Times report:
"Much of that capacity is untapped. Hospital ships are at port. The Department of Veterans Affairs, legally designated as the backup health care system in national emergencies, awaits requests for help. The veterans department has a surplus of beds in many of its 172 hospital centers and a robust number of special rooms for patients with breathing disorders.
The sprawling system of emergency doctors and nurses ready to be deployed by the Department of Health and Human Services — known as the National Disaster Medical System — is also still waiting for orders, other than to staff locations where passengers offloaded from cruise ships are being quarantined.
And the Defense Department, home to 1.3 million active-duty troops and a civilian and military infrastructure that has made planning for national emergencies almost an art form, has yet to be deployed to its fullest capabilities. Senior Pentagon officials say they are ready to assist in any way that is ordered, but they also caution that much of the military’s emergency medical care is designed for combat trauma or natural disasters, and not mass quarantine for infections."
Underlying assumptions. A glimpse at the magnitude with which government planners view the epidemic is provided in the seven underlying assumptions on which the action plan is based.
Quoting from the report:
"1. Universal susceptibility and exposure will significantly degrade the timelines and efficiency of response efforts.
2. A pandemic will last 18 months or longer and could include multiple waves of illness.
3.The spread and severity of COVID-19 will be difficult to forecast and characterize.
4.Increasing COVID-19 suspected or confirmed cases in the U.S. will result in increased hospitalizations among at-risk individuals, straining the health care system.
5.States will request federal assistance when requirements exceed state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) capabilities tor respond to COVID - 19. This may include requests for assistance of HHS through the HHS Region based on the scope of assistance available through an emergency supplemental appropriation and may include additional assistance under the Stafford Act.
6. Supply chain and transportation impacts due to ongoing COVID-19 outbreak will likely result in significant shortages for government, private sector, and individual U.S. consumers.
7. As the federal response to COVID - 19 evolves beyond a public health and medical response, additional federal departments and agencies will be required to respond to the outbreak and secondary impacts, thereby increasing the need for coordination to ensure a unified, complete, and synchronized federal response."
What California wants. The plan’s overall purpose, the document says, is “A nimble, effective COVID -19 response with flexible sustainable capabilities (that) will save lives and mitigate social and economic disruption.”
"In coordination with the interagency (task force), HHS will take all necessary action to leverage available (government) resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from COVID-19. Federal departments and agencies will coordinate activities to limit the spread of COVID-19; to mitigate the impact of illness, suffering, and death; and to sustain critical infrastructure and key resources in the U.S.”
Newsom, in his letter to Trump, specifically asks for the dispatch of the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship to Los Angeles. In a separate letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders, the governor asked for $1 billion in various forms of aid to the state.
You can read his letter to Trump here.
(Clarification: The original headline on this post has been changed to say that the government report "assumes" an 18-month pandemic, rather than "forecasts" it. In the document, which you can read via the embedded link, "Assumptions" are defined this way: "In the absence of facts, planning assumptions represent information deemed true." Also the "Gov." in the headline refers to Governor Gavin Newsom).
Images: Cover of federal government COVID-19 plan; Pence and Trump (Newsweek); Organization chart for government coronavirus response; Gavin Newsom at a press conference on COVID-19 (Businessinsider.com).