No one blames President Trump for the coronavirus pandemic, but his response to the crisis is another matter.

George Conway, husband of Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, says the president must share some of the responsibility for a hesitating and unsure response. And that could be partly due to his gutting our nation’s Health and Homeland Security Departments of needed funds and people qualified to guide us through such emergencies.

Early in 2018 Trump summarily fired Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, whose job was to direct our response to global health emergencies. And although we desperately need Bossert’s direction and expertise today, he has never been replaced.

For reasons best known to himself our president has declined to use the World Health Organization’s epidemic testing as other nations have successfully done. We are already paying for this service in our WHO budget. And Trump now also proposes to withhold financial support from the WHO.

In early January, almost a month before the first American coronavirus case was reported, the Chinese reported detecting a new mysterious virus. And a week later German virologists completed their first diagnostic testing. But the Trump administration refused to consider this information even as a temporary measure until we could complete our own testing. This cost us valuable time. Could the U.S. pharmaceutical industry have been involved here, demanding a piece of the action for themselves? And Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence, a politician, rather than a qualified medical person, to head up the epidemic response team.

In 2018 Trump failed to replace Dr. Luciana Borio, NSC director for Medical and Bio-Defense Preparedness, when she left the job. And he failed to replace Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer as senior director of Global Health Security and Bio-Defense. Instead, Trump shut down the Global Health Security and Bio-Defense Organizations. And we wonder that we lead the world today in coronavirus cases? While comprising less than 5% of the world population we currently have over 34% of the world’s COVID-19 cases. Something’s amiss here.

Even as the outbreaks increased and spread worldwide Trump pressed for a 19% reduction in the Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s budget, a 10% cut in public health services, plus a 7% reduction in the Public Health Services Organization’s budget. These are all organizations whose functions are to respond to threats to America’s public health. And back in 2018 we stopped all epidemic prevention funding for 39 of 49 countries including China.

Our president at first cast doubt on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. He called it a “hoax,” his standard put-down for anything he doesn’t want to deal with. And several times he has suggested the virus is being contained while putting out zero information on the true risks to our national health. Finally, Trump kept a virus-infected cruise ship at sea for days without proper medical care to avoid increasing our total case numbers ashore. And the State Department sent infected and healthy passengers from a cruise ship in Japan home on the same plane against sound medical advice.

Our entire response to this pandemic has been largely one of prioritizing political considerations above the health and welfare of US citizens. And let me close with a dumb question: Why is our government loosening its antivirus restrictions when the death rate from the pandemic is still increasing?

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at

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