December 19, 2020 – The first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic and the federal government's tragic response to it are examined in this documentary film by prolific documentarian Alex Gibney.
Since I keep up with the news pretty closely, I knew most of this material, but there were some surprises, like the fact that one of the few Covid treatment drugs, Remdesivir, costs about $10 per dose to make (some say the company, Giliad could make a profit if it sold the drug for $10 per dose) but a standard five day Remdesivir treatment regimen in hospitals now costs over $3,000. That seems like a lot for a government-patented drug that the taxpayers had paid almost $100 million to keep available.
Similar government-related price problems are detailed in the movie on everything from drugs to medical equipment and personal protective equipment like gloves, gowns and masks. Questionable choices in government incentives, manufacturing and distribution seem to indicate a pattern of corruption which enriched certain companies and countries at the expense of American states, local governments, hospitals and patients.
The federal government ignored warning signs of the impending pandemic in early 2020. As early as January 28, U.S. Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar clearly stated the Covid-19 response plan in news video: The playbook for responding to an infectious disease outbreak is pretty simple and multi-tiered. You identify cases, isolate people, diagnose them and treat them. Then you track down all the contacts with the infected person and you do the same with those people, and contacts of contacts, if necessary.
If this sounds like a good plan, that is because it is a good plan. That is the same plan followed by South Korea, and it was very effective there. The U.S. did not follow this plan, however. In the U.S. there was no national plan to identify cases, isolate those infected, or trace the contacts of the infected people. All that requires a national testing program. A virus pandemic is like a fire that spreads from an initial point. You cannot put out the fire unless you know where the fire is. The U.S. had no idea where the fires were.
A related problem was the bungled rollout of a Covid-19 test developed by the Centers for Disease control. The movie said fixing the test was easy, but for some reason took a long time, and the CDC also slow-walked approval of locally-developed tests around the country. Meanwhile, President Trump expressed his displeasure with the whole idea of testing. The more tests, he said, the more cases discovered. More cases, in turn, make the Trump Administration look bad.
In February, after the virus was already spreading across the U.S. with thousands of infections, the movie said the Trump administration created the CS China Procurement Service, providing incentives for 3M and other American companies to sell their entire N95 mask inventories to China. Later, when N95 masks were in short supply in America, states had to pay much higher prices to foreign producers to get N95 masks.
Michael Bowen, Executive Vice President of Prestige Ameritech, an American mask maker, repeatedly warned the government that there would be a shortage of N95 masks and other protective equipment. In the movie he said he had been warning people for years that ... the U.S. mask supply is going to collapse and people are going to die and it doesn't cost much to fix. He wrote 20 letters to President Barack Obama about the problem, and nothing was done about it. He also repeatedly contacted the Trump Adminstration about the problem, and again got no response.
Rather than buying the medical equipment, masks, gowns and gloves needed to protect health care workers directly, or arranging to have them made in the U.S., the federal government used its buying power from foreign manufacturers in a way that drove up prices, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency even bidding against hospitals and states (who were already bidding against each other) for medical equipment.
The movie includes an examination of Project Airbridge, in which the government flew medical protective equipment from overseas to America which was then bought exclusively by the five largest medical distributors, who in turn could sell the materials for whatever price they wanted to whomever they wanted. Competitive bidding for those supplies drove up the prices even higher. If this operation was designed to maximize the cost-efficient delivery of supplies, it was a failure, but if it was designed to enrich certain companies at the expense of most patients, it was a success.
One particular governmental program to search for available medical equipment and protective gear was a hopeless failure, according to the movie. Max Kennedy Jr., an unpaid volunteer for the Coronavirus Supply Chain Task Force talks at length in the movie about how ill-equipped the task force was. This Federal Emergency Management Agency task force lacked agency support, purchase payment options, and also lacked access to expertise in the international medical equipment supply chains.
Mixed government messaging about having people wearing masks to protect themselves and others, social distancing and isolating is discussed in the movie along with the politicization of these pandemic control measures.
This film was released in early October, just before it was announced that President Trump was sick with Covid-19. It is no surprise that Trump was defeated a month later in the election, but it is surprising given his administration's total failure to protect the public and the economy from the pandemic, that he got 70 million votes. Had he effectively dealt with Covid-19 it looks like he would have been easily re-elected.
Although this film covers a lot of familiar territory for those of us who consume a lot of news from reliable news outlets (written by reporters who sign their names to their articles, who stand behind their work, whose publishers stand behind their reporters, who use verifiable sources and whose reporting passes fact checks) some of this may come as a surprise to those who venture outside certain closed, slanted news ecosystems to see this film, such as targeted Facebook news feeds or other slanted news sources may leave out some facts that don't fit into certain political worldviews. This film rates a B.
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