Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: At War With Coronavirus
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: At War With Coronavirus

Plus, holding China to account for its role in COVID-19’s spread.

Happy Thursday. To the many of you who have reached out and asked, Declan has not yet decided how he feels about the Bears trading for former Jaguars and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, potentially to supplant Mitch Trubisky. It’s a lot to process; please respect his privacy during this time.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A new CDC report on Americans with coronavirus reveals that nearly 40 percent of those sick enough to need care in hospitals were between the ages of 20 and 54, demonstrating that while older Americans are at higher risk the virus can cause serious health challenges to younger Americans, too.

  • The CDC has issued guidance to medical professionals on how to proceed with the treatment of patients if they run out of PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks, including the possible use of “homemade masks (e.g., bandanas, scarfs)” if traditional masks are not available.

  • Detroit’s three automakers—General Motors Co., Ford Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—have agreed to temporarily close factories due to coronavirus concerns.

  • The Senate passed the House’s coronavirus stimulus package 90-8—with eight Republicans voting against it—and President Trump signed it into law. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act ensures coronavirus testing is provided at no cost to patients, and bolsters paid sick leave for a portion of the workforce.

  • Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams both announced they tested positive for coronavirus, the first members of Congress to do so. 

  • The United States imposed additional economic sanctions on Iran. The move comes days after an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at American forces.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager says the presidential candidate is “having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign” after a string of primary losses. 

  • Gov. Bill Weld, the only candidate remaining in the GOP field aside from the now-presumptive nominee President Trump, ended his campaign.

At War With Coronavirus

The White House’s coronavirus task force provided another update to the public about the government’s response to coronavirus on Wednesday. The biggest news item: President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, a law passed in 1950 at the start of the Korean War that gives the government the authority to direct production in private industries. The act was initially used to mobilize companies for the war effort, but Trump would use it to increase production of medical supplies. He clarified that he was invoking the act “just in case we need it” and later tweeted that the powers the act grants would only be used “in a worst case scenario in the future.”

When asked by The Dispatch what that worst case scenario could be, a task force official simply said the administration is “constantly monitoring supply levels of PPE [personal protective equipment], ventilators, respirators, and other equipment to determine if and when such a reallocation of resources is necessary.”

With General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler temporarily shutting down all of their North American plants on Wednesday, Mary Barra—CEO of GM—reportedly offered to convert some of the company’s factory space to manufacture ventilators, one of the pieces of medical equipment required to treat COVID-19 patients that could soon be in short supply. Elon Musk—the eccentric head of Tesla—tweeted late Wednesday night that his company “will make ventilators if there is a shortage.” Bloomberg News reported the Trump administration has not yet made any such request of GM, and Larry Kudlow—Trump’s National Economic Council director—told Fox News that Barra made the offer “on a voluntary basis for civic and patriotic reasons.”

The task force official touted the benefits of the administration’s “whole-of-America” approach to combating the spread of the coronavirus. “We can continue to solve problems by tapping into the ingenuity of American companies.”

Trump also announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days in an effort to help homeowners and renters. The suspension, however, applies only to properties with mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There were 8.1 million FHA-insured mortgages at the end of the 2019 fiscal year, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are estimated to back more than $6.3 trillion in mortgage markets and financial institutions, about half the mortgage debt in the country.

Trump declared he would quickly deploy two Navy hospital ships—the Comfort and the Mercy —to further assist in the coronavirus effort. Pentagon officials say the boats not for treating coronavirus patients—they aren’t fit for infectious diseases like COVID-19—but that they will be effective in off-loading some non-coronavirus medical needs from local hospitals so those hospitals can focus on the pandemic. The Comfort is headed to New York, the Mercy to an as-of-yet undetermined location on the West Coast. But that good news was dampened a bit when the Pentagon announced that the Comfort, currently undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia, was “weeks” away from being ready for deployment.

Vice President Mike Pence announced that HHS was issuing a regulation that would allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines (they usually need to secure state licenses to do so), and he asked Americans to “[delay] elective procedures across the country … to ensure that medical supplies and medical capacity go where they’re needed most.”

With Defense Secretary Mark Esper and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie flanking the sides of the stage, the entire press conference was reminiscent of a war effort—and Trump did not shy away from the comparisons. “I view it as … [I’m] a wartime president,” he said. “I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.”

“Every generation of Americans has been called to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation,” he continued. “In World War II, young people in their teenage years volunteered to fight. They wanted to fight so badly because they love our country. Workers refused to go home and slept on factory floors to keep assembly lines running … The numbers of ships that they built during World War II, to this day has never—nothing like that has ever been equal.

“And now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together because we are all in this together and we’ll come through together. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy: the invisible enemy. But we’re going to defeat the invisible enemy. I think we’re going to do it even faster than we thought. And it will be a complete victory. It’ll be a total victory.”

“It Comes from China”

Wednesday’s briefing took several detours into the relatively unimportant battle over whether to include references to China or its Wuhan province in naming the pandemic. The president opened his prepared remarks by throwing chum in the water. “I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus.”

Moments later, the inevitable questions. “Why do you keep calling this the Chinese virus … A lot of people say it’s racist.” 

Trump: “It’s not racist at all. No. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”

It’s a convenient argument—one that allows the president to distract from his head-snapping reversal on the seriousness of the coronavirus threat by picking a fight with the media and identifying a villain. But it’s also true; the virus does come from China and those origins are relevant.

The basic contours of the Chinese government’s cover-up of the origins of the virus and its early spread are well-known and not seriously in dispute. The regime censored doctors, silenced complaints, disappeared critics, and misled international institutions responsible for tracking the virus. The attempts to keep hidden the nature of the virus and its exponential growth played a critical role in the growing pandemic and the ever-increasing international death toll. A much-discussed study out of the University of Southampton found that earlier intervention by the Chinese government could have reduced cases by as much as 95 percent, preventing many subsequent deaths. 

It’s no wonder, then, that the Chinese government has launched a global propaganda campaign to rewrite that ugly history. A terrific New York Times video—well worth 3-and-a-half minutes—details the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts at “major damage control.” State-run media and Chinese diplomats are attempting to recast the government’s early struggles with the coronavirus and essentially shout down critics, internal and external. The government has even suggested that the virus has American origins, a claim that earned a stern rebuke from the State Department. 

The Chinese government recently announced it would kick out reporters from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post—making even more difficult the task of getting accurate information from inside China. So, it’s worth casting a somewhat skeptical gaze at new reports that China has effectively defeated coronavirus, with the government reporting zero new domestic infections Wednesday. 

It’s not surprising that President Trump would focus his attention on China as he seeks to move beyond his own missteps in the early days of the fight against coronavirus here in the U.S. His surrogates took to Twitter Wednesday night with the hashtag #ChinaLiedPeopleDied to drive home the point. But those efforts might be complicated by his own words on the matter.

“I spoke with President Xi,” Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire on February 10, “and they’re working very, very hard, and I think it’s going to all work out fine.”

Worth Your Time

  • Policymakers are currently trying to discern the best ways to mitigate economic harm to individuals and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. A team of writers over at the R Street Institute has put together a list of regulatory reforms for them to consider, tackling everything from suspending parking hours limits to waiving restrictions on alcohol trucks delivering to grocery stores.

  • Disinformation in the coronavirus era has been plentiful, with those downplaying the virus competing to be the loudest voice in the room vs. those predicting the end of times. For National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty has an article tackling the excesses of both groups. “Neither camp has been entirely responsible in its musings about the virus,” he writes. “But that doesn’t mean one side won’t turn out to have been closer to the truth.”

  • Some very solid reporting done by Caixin Global has made it clear that the Chinese government knew about the coronavirus much earlier than it let on. Chinese scientists identified the new virus in December, and the government ordered the destruction of lab samples on January 1. The Times has the full story and it’s especially important to read amid China’s efforts to change the narrative about the virus’ origins. 

  • Everyone’s lives have been dominated by news of the coronavirus for the past few weeks. Well, almost everyone’s. This New York Times piece from Charlie Warzel tells the story of a rafting group that went off the grid for 25 days, only to return to our current crisis.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Congratulations to the Buffalo Bills and the entire AFC East.

Toeing the Company Line

  • There’s a new Dispatch Podcast for your listening pleasure. Sarah, Steve, David, and Jonah all got together (remotely!) to discuss all things coronavirus: Is federalism working like it should? Are people taking the pandemic seriously enough? What’s the deal with the economic relief packages being debated on Capitol Hill? Plus, the gang shares how they’re talking to their kids about the virus. Tune in here!

  • Both Democrats and Republicans argue that the other side is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to push their existing agendas. And both Democrats and Republicans are right in arguing so. That’s the crux of Jonah’s latest Hump Day Epistle (🔒), for members only. “One of the funny things about national crises,” Jonah writes, “is that they tend to confirm everything intellectuals, politicians, and activists already believed.” Check out the whole thing here.

  • If you missed it yesterday, Daniel Vaughan looks at what Bernie Sanders’s legacy might be, and he finds that while Sanders might have given rise to a new socialism, it’s one that his passed him by. “He is being replaced by woke Marxism, though I doubt he sees it,” Vaughan writers. “Because he’s the beloved grandfather of this newly constituted left, he gets a pass, even if he struggles with voters.”

Let Us Know

Dr. Tony Fauci, 79, appeared yesterday on the popular sports podcast, Pardon My Take, in an effort to spread the word on the importance of flattening the COVID-19 curve. 

A coronavirus task force official told The Dispatch they are making an effort to reach “young Americans” and “people who maybe think they are not vulnerable and don’t realize that it’s extremely dangerous when they go to the bar for St. Patrick’s day, then go visit their friend who is undergoing chemo shortly thereafter.”

Our question to you: Where else should Dr. Fauci show up in his thankless crusade to get Gen Z’ers to stop partying for a couple of weeks?

  • Viral social distancing TikTok challenge

  • Carpool Karaoke with James Corden

  • Cameo in Sunday’s episode of Westworld

  • Guest verse on the new Lil Uzi Vert album

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Alec Dent (@Alec_Dent), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of a drive-thru coronavirus testing site by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.