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Gov. Murphy Failed To Implement NJ’s Pandemic Preparedness Plans

Media praise of “data driven response” provides cover for initial failure to act

Delays exacerbated panic and diminished NJ’s testing & treatment capacity

[Update below]

Once again, NJ Spotlight has acted as cheerleader for the Murphy administration’s response to COVID-19, instead of holding them accountable.

Once again, they have relied exclusively on statements made by the Governor and private sector instead of fact checking them against the actual text of the underlying State planning documents and laws.

Yesterday, NJ Spotlight wrote about “lessons from the past”, while completely ignoring existing State pandemic preparedness and response plans.

As I’ve written, those plans found that the current COVID-19 pandemic was “looming” and “inevitable”.

Those plans projected 50,000 deaths, a severe shortage of ventilators, and that the healthcare system would be “severely taxed if not overwhelmed”.

Those plans laid out a detailed strategy and programs to prepare for and respond to a pandemic.

Those plans were not adequately funded and staffed and invoked in a timely way. As a result, NJ was poorly prepared, the response was delayed and confused, and people needlessly died. 

NJ Spotlight ignored all that, while praising the preparedness and response of the Murphy administration and private sector medical facilities.

In today’s story, this one really set me off:

‘Informed decisions’ instead of ‘educated guesses’

“The more we have facts, the more we can make fully informed decisions as opposed to just educated guesses,” Murphy said at the state media briefing Tuesday. “Getting our arms around (the data) is going to be critical to winning this public health battle.”

If Gov. Murphy and his Commissioner of the Department of Health are so interested in “getting their arms around the data”, then why didn’t they adequately fund, staff, and immediately implement the laboratory coordination and testing provisions of their own 2015 Pandemic Plan?

That NJ DoH plan has a strategy and extensive technical requirements for, among other things, testing and laboratory reporting. Hit the link and read them, or just look at the table of contents:

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 8.40.10 AM

All these things should have been in place and deployed in NJ MONTHS ago, when the World Health Organization and US Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recognized the Chinese data and a pandemic flu.

Had these plans been implemented, NJ would have had scaled up capacity and equipment, and had testing and lab procedures in place. NJ would have had a sufficient number of masks, respirators, ventilators, and increased hospital ICU beds. NJ would have had public communication, exposure tracking, “social distancing”, quarantine, facility closures, and critical things like food distribution all in place before chaos set in and the pandemic exploded.

Again failing to hold State officials accountable while providing coverNJ Spotlight also quoted NJ Homeland Security Director, who invoked NJ law, the same law pursuant to which the State adopted one of it pandemic plans, known as  NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan:

In his letter Monday to all clinical laboratories authorized to perform COVID-19 testing, New Jersey’s homeland security director Jared M. Maples said the state’s Domestic Security Preparedness Act of 2001 allowed him to compel them to provide testing information the state needed to protect public health.

Yet, while giving the administration a softball, Spotlight failed to ask Director Maples about why that letter had not been written MONTHS ago, when the pandemic was initially recognized.

If Director Maples and the State DoH acted in accordance with the science and their own pandemic preparedness plans, procedures for testing people, laboratory analysis and data reporting would have been in place MONTHS ago.

With respect for the context of coronavirus testing and data reporting, in addition to failure to implement existing preparedness plans, there are key facts that are not being reported in US media or by NJ Spotlight.

For the national story of what went wrong in preparedness and response, listen to yesterday’s NPR “Fresh Air” program:

In addition, key facts are not being reported. They are:

1) the Chinese, while they engaged in a coverup domestically, were transparent on the science and early on provided important genome data to WHO in December.

2) Based on Chinese data, WHO published the coronavirus gene sequence on their website the first week in January, which enabled labs around the world to very easily and quickly develop test methods.

3) the Germans, South Koreans and others used WHO gene sequence data to develop test methods and field test hundreds of thousands of people, which enabled them to greatly reduce transmission.

The press has reported that the Trump CDC rejected WHO test in favor of developing their own test, which later failed.

Regardless, the delay by Trump CDC and others to test and implement existing pandemic preparedness plans is a crime.

This story from The Intercept is one of the better media reports, a highly suggested read.

I also wrote about how Trump’s reliance on a national security framework has suppressed science and blocked doctors and epidemiologists from doing their jobs.

Of course, the media is not writing about any of that either!

[Update 4/5/20 – Noam Chomsky agrees with my assessment – and he also notes China’s gene sequencing:

“This coronavirus pandemic could have been prevented, the information was there to prevent it. In fact, it was well-known. In October 2019, just before the outbreak, there was a large-scale simulation in the United States – possible pandemic of this kind,” he said, referring to an exercise – titled Event 201 – hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Nothing was done. The crisis was then made worse by the treachery of the political systems that didn’t pay attention to the information that they were aware of.

“On December 31, China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of pneumonia-like symptoms with unknown origins. A week later, some Chinese scientists identified a coronavirus. Furthermore, they sequenced it and provided information to the world. By then, virologists and others who were bothering to read WHO reports knew that there was a coronavirus and knew that had to deal with it. Did they do anything? Well yes, some did.

“China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore began to do something, and they have sort of pretty much seemed to have contained at least the first surge of the crisis.”

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