This newsletter usually opens with the U.S. death toll, but today let's spend a moment on the day toll: The early days of the spread of the coronavirus in which crucial opportunities to respond were squandered by systemic federal government failures, as chronicled in several new stories.
Seventy days elapsed from the first time the White House was formally notified of the outbreak in China on Jan. 3 until President Trump began to treat the virus “as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens,” according to Washington Post reporting based on 47 interviews with administration officials, public health experts, intelligence officers and others.
Twenty-one days in February were lost as the administration relied on a coronavirus test known to be flawed and prevented private labs from deploying better ones, blinding doctors and scientists as the virus spread across the country. Read our deep dive into scientists' alarm and exasperation during that period.
Eighteen months ago — long before the outbreak — “the Trump administration received detailed plans for a new machine designed to churn out millions of protective respirator masks at high speed during a pandemic,” we report in another story. It was never built, and the U.S. government is now so desperate for masks it has asked 3M to stop sending them to Canada and other countries, prompting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to warn the United States would be “hurting itself as much as Canada” because essential goods and services flow both ways.
Eleven days from now, the country will need 32,000 ventilators, far more than are in the government stockpile, according to an estimate by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Because U.S. officials played down the virus for so long, Ford and General Motors only recently overhauled their factories to make the machines, and the bulk of their production won't come on line until May. Read more here.
These cumulative problems mean “the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation,” we write in our story on the 70 lost days.
Other numbers: The U.S. has suffered more than 7,800 deaths and more than 290,000 confirmed infections from the virus. The jobless rate jumped to 4.4 percent in March, its sharpest one-month rise since 1975. Millions of Americans have been laid off or furloughed, more than 60,000 stores have shuttered, and analysts say many of them will never open again. A week after Trump signed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, key Democrats are already talking about another one.
And new signs of dysfunction: After a behind-the-scenes debate between officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and White House officials, Trump unenthusiastically announced the agency's recommendation that Americans start wearing face coverings in public. Even as he shared the guidance, Trump said he would not follow it himself. Read more about that here.