Every US state now deemed a disaster zone in need of aid

Everyday Owl attracts readers from across Europe and the world, especially from the USA. Owl has no idea why so much global interest is shown in the goings on in a small corner of Devon.

Anyway, for Owl’s American cousins – this for you guys! (Owl understands that loo rolls are still scarce in some places).

Henry Zeffman, Washington  www.thetimes.co.uk 

Every US state is in an official state of disaster for the first time in history as the country’s death toll from coronavirus became the world’s highest.

Wyoming, the least populous state, became the last to get a federal disaster declaration from President Trump over the weekend after it reached 200 cases.

The declarations make federal funding available to state and local governments to combat the virus and make it easier for them to draw on resources such as the army corps of engineers.

Washington DC, which has a unique status, the US Virgin Islands; the Northern Mariana Islands; Puerto Rico and Guam have also received disaster declarations, making American Samoa the only US territory that has not.

On Saturday, the US death toll from the virus surpassed that of Italy, becoming the highest number of any country. As of yesterday evening, there had been 21,954 deaths from the virus in the US.

But as the states attempt to slow the virus’ spread and minimise deaths they are competing with each other, and the federal government, in a cut-throat global market for medical supplies.

State governors are cutting unorthodox deals directly with companies in an attempt to beat their competitors — and compatriots — to precious hauls of masks and other protective equipment.

States are paying ballooning prices for scarce resources, and abandoning rules about how to spend taxpayers’ money, for example by offering full funds up front to sweeten the deal.

Officials in one state told The Washington Post that they were preparing to dispatch police to greet two chartered cargo planes bearing millions of masks from China next week, for fear that the federal government will swoop in. The officials asked the newspaper not to identify their state so the government was not alerted.

“We’re doing what everyone else is doing,” Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, said “You’ve got 50 states and the federal government all chasing the same companies. It’s crazy.”

Laura Kelly, the Democratic governor of Kansas, said: “We all know how the free market works. It goes to the highest bidder. I can’t put in a bid for masks or ventilators or face shields that will rival what colleagues in New York can do.”

Mr Trump announced social distancing measures in mid-March but reports at the weekend said he was being urged by senior officials to put strong restrictions in place throughout February.

“Obviously if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down it may have been a little bit different,” Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious diseases expert, told CNN yesterday. “But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then . . . We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it’s not. It is what it is. We are where we are right now.”

According to The New York Times several administration officials including Mike Pence, the vice-president, Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, tried to impress the seriousness of the crisis and the necessity of strong action on Mr Trump. But it was eventually Deborah Birx, a world-leading HIV researcher seconded to the coronavirus taskforce, who won the president round. The president “often told people he thought she was elegant,” the newspaper reported.

Beginning in January, medical experts communicated on an increasingly panicked email chain about how bad they feared the virus would become — while lamenting the government’s inaction. They called the email chain “Red Dawn”, a reference to a 1980s Patrick Swayze film about children trying to save the US from a foreign invasion.

The group was anchored by Duane Caneva, the chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security.

On January 28, James Lawler, an infectious diseases doctor who advised George W Bush and Barack Obama, wrote: “Great understatements in history: Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow — ‘just a little stroll gone bad’. Pompeii — ‘a bit of a dust storm’. Hiroshima — ‘a bad summer heat wave’ AND Wuhan — ‘just a bad flu season’.” Two days later Mr Trump declared that the virus was “very well under control” and there would be a “very good ending for it”.