The federal government’s top public health spokesman invoked World War II as the U.S. heads into a new, deadlier phase of the coronavirus pandemic, warning in interviews Sunday that this is a “Pearl Harbor moment.”
Surgeon General Jerome Adams also told states that are still pleading for medical equipment and aid that they have to “be Rosie The Riveter” — a cultural icon whose “We Can Do It!” slogan became a symbol of the American war effort — and “do your part.”
“The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment. It’s going to be our 9/11 moment,” Adams told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives, and we really need to understand that if we want to flatten that curve and get through to the other side, everyone needs to do their part.” He made strikingly similar remarks on “Fox News Sunday.”
Republican and Democratic governors alike pushed back, saying the Trump administration has failed to mount the kind of national coordinated response needed to address the crisis and that shortages of tests, ventilators and protective equipment for physicians persist.
“This is ludicrous,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat. “The surgeon general referred to Pearl Harbor. Can you imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘We’ll be right behind you, Connecticut. Good luck building those battleships?’”
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, one of the areas of the South hit hardest by the virus, said the state’s medical resources will be overwhelmed in less than a week without an influx of federal aid.
“We now think it’s probably around the 9th of April before we exceed our ventilator capacity, based on the current number on hand, and that we’re a couple of days behind that on ICU bed capacity being exceeded,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Governors’ long-simmering frustration has erupted in recent days as the death toll from the virus has increased and the Trump administration has moved to imply that it’s not the federal government’s responsibility to ensure states have the resources they need and they are instead a “backstop” to states leaders’ own efforts.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump again declined to implement a national stay-at-home order, and scolded governors for their appeals for help, part of a bigger push to shift responsibility away from the federal government. Jared Kushner and other White House officials also said states should not depend on the medicines and medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile.
“It’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” he said.
“We really need to understand that if we want to flatten that curve and get through to the other side, everyone needs to do their part.”– Jerome Adams, surgeon general
The government’s website for the stockpile, which previously said it was “for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out,” was altered to align with Kushner’s remarks. It now says the stockpile’s role “is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well.”
Leaving states on their own, however, has had serious consequences. Many governors say they’ve been forced to bid against one another, the federal government and other countries for supplies on the open market and pay exorbitant rates for basic protective gear.
“It literally is a global jungle that we’re competing in now,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said on “Meet the Press.” “I’d like to see a better way, but that’s the reality in which we are.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker blasted Trump in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” telling host Jake Tapper that Trump “does not understand the word ‘federal.’”
“If he were right, why would we ever need a Federal Emergency Management Agency? It’s because individual states can’t possibly do what the federal government can do,” the Democratic governor said. “We don’t have a Defense Production Act. There’s no way that we could stockpile in anticipation of a pandemic that no one anticipated. And yet the federal government is responsible for doing precisely that.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer similarly expressed frustration that the U.S. has no national strategy. The current “patchwork based on whomever the governor is,” Whitmer said, is “creating a more porous situation where Covid-19 will go longer and more people will get sick and sadly more lives may get lost.
“That’s precisely why think we all have to do our jobs. We are not one another’s enemies,” Whitmer, a Democrat, told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “The enemy is Covid-19, and it has to be all hands on deck from the federal level to the state level to the local level. And that’s precisely what we’re trying to do because Covid-19, as I said, doesn’t discriminate on party line or state line, and that’s why we have to have a national strategy, and we all have to be working on the same team.”