Obama-era Ebola czar says White House is ‘blind’ to how bad coronavirus will get

(WASHINGTON) — Ron Klain, who served as the U.S. Ebola response coordinator under former President Barack Obama, told the hosts of ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast on Wednesday that the U.S. government’s slow response to the novel coronavirus is putting the nation on a “path to becoming the worst outbreak” in the world.

“It’s going to get very bad,” Klain — affectionately known as the “Ebola czar,” who served from late 2014 to early 2015 — told ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein, noting specifically how the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus continues to climb on a daily basis.

“We are adding 10,000 cases a day in the U.S., and that probably understates the number of cases,” he said, later adding, “We’re still not testing in large parts of the country. We’re blind to how much this is.”

In addition to serving as the Ebola czar, Klain was also the former chief of staff to former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden. He currently serves as a senior adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign.

“This is about saving lives, not about an election. It’s about getting the right things done,” Klain told the hosts. “And so I think [Biden’s] made that very, very clear. He does get daily briefings about how various aspects of this are going.”

Biden released a campaign video of Klain on Monday, in which he gave a “breakdown” explaining the challenges of COVID-19.

“Some countries acted quickly,” Klain said in the video. “What did President Trump do? He downplayed it. Trump’s slow response to this crisis is no surprise.”

Everyone knows that we're facing a real crisis from the coronavirus. But do you know how we got here and what we need to do next? Ron Klain, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, breaks it down for us: pic.twitter.com/XRkIw2EzM4

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 21, 2020

Asked about his assessment of what the government and health officials need to do to speed up the response, Klain outlined three things that he said are “really urgent” and that “remain unfixed.”

He said one of the country’s downfalls is the lack of testing being administered. According to previous ABC News reporting, Vice President Mike Pence announced in a March 3 press briefing that Americans could be tested with “no restrictions, subject to doctors’ orders.”

Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said the day before that a million tests would be available by the end of the week.

Klain pointed out that White House officials have yet to deliver on this number — even as President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that the “United States has done far more “testing” than any other nation, by far!”

“We trail the entire developed world for testing our population,” Klain told the hosts. “And that’s one reason why we are leading the entire developed world in the acceleration of cases.”

He said the other two priorities should be creating “tens of thousands” of additional hospital beds and the invocation of the Defense Production Act by the Trump administration in order to supply health care professionals with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Without the proper PPE, Klain said the number of doctors and nurses working to treat COVID-19 patients will decline — as they are sent home.

“Doctors and nurses are reusing gear or using inadequate gear,” he said. “And what’s going to happen is they’re going to get sick.”

When pressed by Karl on Trump’s suggestion of the U.S. being “open for business” by Easter, Klain said he does not envision it being a possibility.

“We need to have some smart, sophisticated planning about what restoration of economic activity looks like,” Klain said.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen on Easter. But I think now is the time to start to do this planning,” he added.

Klain said he didn’t want to speculate about the likelihood of the Democratic National Convention being held in July — but did say he thinks voting by mail should be a national regulation “not only for this pandemic, but in the future.”  

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