The White House knows what it takes to limit the spread of COVID-19. That became obvious when the virus that has swept the globe began infecting staffers close to the president and vice president.
Quickly, the White House adopted the very measures that the administration, especially President Donald Trump, has not consistently endorsed. Masks are now worn by staffers operating in the West Wing. Those in proximity to leaders are tested daily, as are President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Those infected, who now include Trump's personal valet and Pence's chief spokeswoman, are quarantined. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's most respected voice on the pandemic, opted for voluntary self-quarantine after contact tracing determined he had been exposed to someone with the virus.
Those are all entirely sensible steps recommended by infectious disease experts — and the White House itself in its April "Open Up America Again" plan.
The accepted, rational strategy of test, trace and isolate is one that should be the foundation of the nation's defense system against a virus that as yet still has no known treatment, cure or vaccine. It would be vastly more productive than the president frantically tweeting that states struggling to contain the spread be "liberated," or his questioning the value of widespread testing.
The testing that was so scarce for so long is now becoming pervasive enough that states can begin determining the number of symptomatic cases. But that's not enough to determine the true spread of this virus. For that you need broader testing of those who are asymptomatic. Tellingly, in its efforts to control its own spread, the White House is testing not just staffers who are symptomatic, but anyone close to top leaders. That is how you find carriers.
Health officials in Minnesota have said they remain unable to fully track disease spread because of the lack of widespread testing, although testing is increasing. It is an unnecessary burden they have carried for months, due in large measure to a federal government that for too long failed to make widespread testing and tracing part of a national strategy. No one has a magic bullet when it comes to this new and confounding virus, whose dimensions are still being discovered. But we do have tried and true tools that are aided by leaders who publicly embrace the use of such measures, without partisan division.
Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, has declined to isolate himself even after knowing he was exposed to the virus by his press secretary, Katie Miller. Meanwhile, Fauci, the nation's most respected voice on the pandemic, along with Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all voluntarily self-quarantined after contact with those who tested positive.
Dispelling fear in a pandemic is no small task. It is not accomplished by rhetorical commands to simply stop being afraid. Nor is it accomplished by repeated boasts that the U.S. "leads the world in testing," when the reality is we lag in per capita testing behind far smaller countries.
We need a national strategy built around the same measures the White House knew to adopt when the safety of the nation's leaders mattered.