I spent a week quarantining myself with the flu and worrying that I might have the coronavirus. My symptoms seemed to fit the COVID-19 description – fever, cough, headache, congestion. I am also in that at-risk group – a woman in her 70s who just happened to travel through the Seattle and L.A. airports twice in the last few weeks. I seemed like a perfect candidate for testing. So, I called my personal physician who told me to stay home, and only call back if my symptoms got worse. She also told me to call our local health department, which I have tried to do over the last two days. Every time I call, I get a message that all lines are busy. Their lack of availability made me even more uneasy along with learning that Montana had only 600 test kits available at the State a Public Health Laboratory in Helena. To make matters worse, one can only be tested if already quite ill with acute respiratory illness or have been in close contact with someone already diagnosed with COVID-19. Isn’t this a bit late? What about those of us with milder symptoms and those with no symptoms who may be carriers of the disease?
Fortunately, I am recovering and probably have the normal flu, but I will never know if it was indeed COVID-19. But, my situation is actually an example of how poorly prepared our country is for a national health disaster.
Our local services already seem overwhelmed, which reflects a far broader national health crisis. Nearly eight weeks after the first coronavirus case was reported in U.S., President Donald Trump finally recognized the magnitude of the crisis. For weeks he had dismissed evidence documenting the gravity of the spreading COVID-19. His initial response was all about himself claiming this was just another “hoax” and an attempt by the Democrats to defeat him. He then suggested it was just like the flu and in fact the flu killed many more people. His cabinet members assured us they had it under control and it would be better within a few weeks. When asked about testing, the president said “we have beautiful tests” and so many that anyone who wants can have a test. He has made every effort to act as if this is not an American problem because it’s a “Chinese virus” or a “foreign virus.” He promised that “it will go away” and advised Americans to “just relax it will all pass.” On a conference call with the nation’s governors he downplayed the role of the federal government and said that the states should not rely on the federal government to obtain desperately needed respirators, ventilators, protective clothing and other equipment to aid health care workers and treat the infected. Rather, states should, “Try getting it yourselves.” When a reporter asked if he took any responsibility for the lack of preparedness he flatly said “no,” even stating that he knew nothing about the fact that his administration diluted, if not eliminated the office of pandemic preparation on the Security Council.
Our national government has failed us. Why aren’t testing kits available everywhere? It is so obvious that you can’t track or treat what you don’t see. Recently, Montana was listed as completely virus free with no cases, not because we did not have the coronavirus, but because we had done almost no testing. By the third week of March, Montana had only tested 300 individuals, less than three tenths of one percent of our population. We deserve drive-through testing options similar to what has occurred in South Korea that are available to anyone with concerns about their health. We also deserve sufficient health equipment, intensive care beds, medical supplies, isolation wards for the sick and quarantine facilities for people exposed to COVID-19. We deserve a functioning federal government and a president who steps in and mobilizes every possible resource. Instead we have a president who shoots from the hip giving blithe assurances that everything is control. He’s wrong and it’s the American people who suffer and die from his constant mendacity and flippant denial of science. We deserve a leader who we can trust to be honest and has command of the complex.
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