Feds play crucial role in coronavirus battle
- By Nathan Abse
- Mar 23, 2020
*This story has been updated to reflect new information.*
The novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19 virus, quickly has overrun our daily lives, escalating into the tens of thousands dead and leaving the world’s health systems reeling and economies paralyzed. But, now, there’s a war on to slow the toll—and feds are stepping up to the challenge.
Superficially related to common colds and influenzas, the far more lethal COVID-19 is a strain with many unique features.
First and foremost, a WARNING to counter the common myth that youth is protective: in fact, the virus attacks young and old alike. Growing numbers of both are very sick and headed to hospitals while the virus, as publicized, is killing a greater proportion of elderly people. Lacking either vaccine or cure, the nation is rapidly—and prudently—shutting down social movement to slow “community spread” of the disease, and ramping up “social distancing,” testing and other medical responses. But everyone must beware: This “invisible enemy,” as the White House calls it, has a fatality rate on average 10 times—or more—than that of the common flu.
Now with full Congress and White House backing, the federal government response brings the greatest spend since the 2008 financial meltdown. And, very soon, federal government efforts will rival those not seen since the Great Depression and Second World War. Though much will be administered by the states—through their own planners, health departments, first responders and state National Guards—vast portions of the war on coronavirus are squarely in federal hands. Right away, money and heroic effort are coursing through just about every government agency—but especially the Department of Health and Human Services—the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, the tips of the government spear—and on to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of State, Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the Office of Personnel Management.
What happened? Coronavirus first hit Asia, killing over 3,000 people there by early March. Quickly it moved on most cruelly next to Europe and the Middle East—claiming the lives of more than that number again, with the worst impacts in Italy and Iran. The virus then spread to France, the UK and elsewhere—including the United States. (For details, link here to the World Health Organization.)
By the time we paused to update this review for our readers—the last full week of March—the global toll was well over 350,000 confirmed cases and 15,000 dead, with the U.S. share at more than 35,000 cases and nearing 500 dead. With these numbers doubling roughly every few days, federal, state and local officials—along with medical, first responder and public safety authorities—are standing up every resource possible. With our medical infrastructure still threatened with being overwhelmed, something big must be done to shore up preparations, just about everywhere in the country. And it must be done fast.
The federal workforce will be key at every turn. You—the millions of federal employees and contractors, across hundreds of departments, agencies and sub-agencies—each will have a role in combating the coronavirus outbreak. With your training, hard work, ingenuity—and, as in all crises, hopefully luck—over the coming weeks and months, along with state, local, and private-sector allies, will contain this killer virus’s “community spread." As the days and weeks pass, you will save lives, rein in the numbers of seriously ill and fatalities, and—in due course—help restore the country to wellness.
What might be remembered as the first turning point--when the Executive Mansion got loudly behind the executive agencies to engage the enemy? Friday, March 13, 2020—with our nation’s health system just beginning to strain under a rapidly growing first wave of coronavirus victims—the White House issued an executive declaration of a state of emergency. In the week after, the Office of the President and Congress embarked on gearing up to a war footing, using old laws and passing new ones, and—we expect—unleashing laser-focus on the coronavirus crisis across federal agencies and $1 trillion-plus to limit the health and economic effects of the deadly virus. The White House, resisting rapid action in prior weeks, finally budged.
For now, the lifesaving work of feds—regulatory management of drug and vaccine trials, stimulation and improvement of virus testing, releasing and managing government payments to people (quarantined, sick and work-displaced), providing support of disaster mitigation—will be 24/7 and ongoing. Fulfilling these many complex missions depends hour-by-hour on the work of, you, our federal employees.
Numbers of U.S. cases, updated regularly (CDC): Click here.
Numbers of cases, global count (Johns Hopkins): Click here.