The White House Coronavirus Task Force

Here are some early thoughts about what the Pence Task Force should do, coming out of my experience in project management.

Determine who is in charge. In Donald Trump’s typical desire to weaken subordinates and watch them fight, he has appointed three people as being in charge of the task force. No work will get done unless they agree who is to be the responsible decision-maker. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Pharmaceutical Profit Alex Azar, or Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD. Once a leader is determined, all members of the task force must turn back Trump’s meddling on this issue.

As a part of setting up a responsibility structure, leaders must be chosen for subgroups as noted in the following topics.

Communications. Shut Trump down unless he learns something and can control his fear and inclination to improvise. Even then, his best play would be to act as a listener in his roundtable discussions and allow the experts to speak. Get a name for the task force: “Coronavirus Task Force” would do. Refer to it that way. Expert briefings every day, with no restrictions on video and recording. The topic of the briefing should vary from day to day, emphasizing recent developments. Lists of actions individuals can take should be posted on the internet and made available to local newspapers and governments. Hotlines should be set up. Communications should be accurate and should tell people what to expect.

Detection, treatment, and vaccine. Set up a National Academy of Sciences panel to investigate what went wrong with CDC’s development and distribution of detection kits. More urgently, decide on one kit and a recommended protocol for deciding who is to be tested. (This may have been done already, but they claimed it was done almost a week ago, and now it is being claimed again.) Make testing free to those being tested. Get the lab work on treatment and a vaccine out of the public eye. Report no claims until they are verified. Form a panel of experts to evaluate claims and recommend ways forward.

Community planning. State and local resources must be included in planning. The Public Health Service has a large role to play, although its funding has been greatly reduced under the Trump administration. Funding should be restored. Recommended standards must be developed for closing down events that involve large numbers of people or schools and for limiting movement of people within states or localities.

Maintaining essential services. Develop plans for maintaining garbage collection and availability of water and sewage services if large numbers of employees are absent because of illness. Hospitals need similar plans. Payment for medical services may need to be changed from emphasis on individuals. Grocery stores must continue to provide fresh food; plans must be made for people to access them.

Supply chains. There are three scales on which supply chains must be considered: international, within countries, and locally. Internationally, China supplies many pharmaceuticals and much medical equipment. Their shutdowns are affecting availability. International shipping is a vulnerable point, as airlines shut down flights. Essential chains (food, drugs, supplies to keep water, natural gas, sewage processing running) within the US must be identified and reinforced. Within communities, it may be necessary to set up food deliveries and monitoring of the most vulnerable in their homes.

Congress must be involved as well. Each subgroup must have a legislative liaison to the appropriate Congressional committees.

That’s a start. People who know more than I do about the specifics can fill in what I haven’t included. Would be good to hear from Pence and the task force that they are addressing these issues.