The Examiner

What Our Nation’s Leadership Must Do to Overcome COVID-19

Saturday, March 28, 2020

By Evelyn Farkas

When faced with the deadliest global pandemic in modern history, the President of the United States said that states “shouldn’t be blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail…”

This is unacceptable. The fight against COVID-19 is unlike anything else we’ve experienced in living memory. It threatens millions of Americans for an unknown duration, and it will require a whole-of-society mobilization to defeat. From the Great Depression and World War II to Katrina and 9/11, decisive federal action is required when our nation faces a threat of the scale posed by the coronavirus. This is war, we would never expect New York to try and repel an invasion on its own, and we cannot expect states to fight this fight alone either.

We are entering a period of great uncertainty for our nation, but as we have done throughout our history, America will prevail and come out stronger if we stand together behind decisive expert leadership. Thankfully, defense against an infectious pandemic has been studied by the federal government for decades; when I was executive director of the Congressional Commission on WMD Prevention and Terrorism, we identified an infectious epidemic as one of the top threats facing our nation, and recommended policy reforms to protect America.

This president might think it’s a lot to ask, but here are five things the federal government must do to address this crisis.

1. Speak clearly about the threat, and what we all need to do about it. This is a nasty mega-flu. It spreads like wildfire and can kill lots of people if we don’t act immediately. All Americans need to stay at home to whatever extent possible, stop congregating, distance themselves from others and wash their hands well throughout the day. Gov. Cuomo and our local leaders here in New York’s 17th Congressional District have done a great job, but this is not a crisis they can solve on their own. We need clear federal guidance that applies to all Americans, not piecemeal efforts implemented by the localities most heavily impacted.

2. Provide immediate assistance to American workers, families and businesses to address the brutal cost of the pandemic response. The government must provide direct payments so people and businesses can cover the cost of healthcare, housing and food – our fundamental basic needs – for the duration of this crisis. Though there are many proposals as to the best way to do this, any solution must heed the lessons of 2008 and support people, not corporations, with massive direct financial assistance. If nothing else, this pandemic has put in sharp relief the shortcomings of healthcare, child care and housing in our nation, and we must ensure that our response helps address those longstanding failures.

3. Utilize the Defense Production Act and establish a Department of Defense (DOD) federal task force to support FEMA. We know that we are facing a critical shortage of personal protective gear, ventilators and hospital beds. The administration needs to harness the industrial base of the United States to drastically ramp up production of these goods via the Defense Production Act. We need to harness the outstanding logistics capability of DOD to move materials – protective gear, mobile and other hospital facilities – to the places that will need them. The National Guard needs to be activated under federal authority to help with all of this.

4. The United States needs to spearhead the establishment of an international task force led by the United Nations. The great American Martin Luther King Jr. said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That principle applies here as well. Using the expertise of its agencies, and organizations like the International Rescue Committee, the United States must lead a U.N. effort to help countries with insufficient resources cope with this pandemic and protect refugees and displaced people who have already suffered so much. We cannot accept the moral price of global inaction now, and as long as COVID-19 remains at epidemic levels in other countries, we cannot rest easy here in America.

5. Mobilize good Americans to help with the items above. We must all stay at home, keep a distance and flatten the curve. Companies and individuals can donate equipment, money and time to help fellow citizens recover from COVID-19 and the economic and emotional costs of the pandemic. To get through this, we will need to support the vulnerable here in America and around the world.

This is a global pandemic and a world war against COVID-19. Our federal government should work to unite all peoples in America and across the globe in the fight to save lives. Our leaders should encourage us to open our hearts and create a renewed sense of community. If we do this, our Americans can once again take pride in leading our nation and the peoples of the world to a brighter future.

Evelyn N. Farkas, Ph.D. was a deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Obama, executive director of the WMD Commission, seven-year senior staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a candidate for New York’s 17th Congressional District.