The federal government ignored longstanding recommendations for how to handle a pandemic, and President Trump further undermined efforts, Florida Rep. Donna Shalala said Friday.
“Boy, we weren’t ready,” Shalala, a Democrat who is also former Health and Human Services secretary, said at a meeting of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense.
“We weren’t ready at any level," she added.
The commission, an independent group put together to advise on potential pandemic and bioterrorist dangers, has been warning for years about the lack of US preparedness.
Shalala, a former member of the commission, said the White House did follow one recommendation made in a 2015 report offering guidance about handling a pandemic. That was the appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to head the response.
Trump named Pence coronavirus coordinator on Feb. 27, but for weeks continued to himself front White House briefings on the pandemic.
“If the President had gotten out of the way, the vice president would have done just fine because he had just the right tone about working with state and local governments,” Shalala said.
Pence, she said, had shown he would listen to advice from the US National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other medical experts.
“He never second-guessed their opinions,” she said.