The coronavirus outbreak has upended American life, shutting hundreds of millions of people in their homes and drawing comparisons to crises like 9/11 and the Great Depression. But the current turmoil is more devastating than past catastrophic events because some of the coronavirus damage was avoidable, said Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.
“It's even more tragic, because we had an opportunity to see it coming, and now it's going to change things forever, and we don't know when it's going to end in its current form,” Lamont said in a newly released interview, taped on Friday, March 20.
Mistakes made at the Centers for Disease Control led the agency to underestimate the threat posed by the coronavirus, ProPublica reported on Thursday, citing internal emails obtained through a public records request. Other reports, including an investigation by the New Yorker, have detailed bureaucratic and communications shortcomings that delayed testing for the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the existence of a new coronavirus in China on Jan. 9, and the agency declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30. But it wasn’t until Feb. 26 that President Donald Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a coronavirus task force — and it wasn’t until March 16 that the task force released guidelines to stop the spread of the virus.
“Obviously, the Feds were very slow off the draw,” Lamont says. “They didn't take it seriously early on.”
‘Big, riveting issues’
Lamont said he has never seen anything quite like this crisis during his life in politics, which dates back to the 1980s when he served as a town selectman in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“You remember 9/11, Kennedy assassination, maybe Pearl Harbor, going back in time,” Lamont says. “They're big, riveting issues that have galvanized the American people. And occasionally, our incredibly dysfunctional democracy gets together on a unified basis.”
Lamont pointed to cooperation in his home state among disparate political groups, such as business and labor or Democrats and Republicans.
“This is a state that's really rallying together, rowing in the same direction,” he adds, while warning that the unifying effects of 9/11 wore off soon after the attacks: “We thought 9/11 might be transformative, and it lasted for months.”
On Wednesday night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill slated to be the biggest such package in U.S. history, right before the Department of Labor announced on Thursday a record 3.283 million jobless claims filed over the past week.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as of Thursday, rose to more than 79,000 in the U.S., as the worldwide total surpassed 521,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of people diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. has grown dramatically since March 1, when there were roughly 100 confirmed cases.
Lamont made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Since he took office at the outset of last year, Lamont has signed legislation set to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour as well as another measure set to guarantee family and medical leave. Last week, he joined New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a coordinated regional effort to limit gatherings to 50 people or less and close gyms, movie theaters, and casinos.
On March 20, Lamont announced an order for his state that requires all nonessential businesses to close and recommends that residents maintain social distancing and limit outdoor activities — a stay-at-home measure similar to those that, as of Tuesday, have been announced by at least sixteen other states, including New York and California.
In all, more than half of Americans live under such rules, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Lamont told Yahoo Finance that the federal government failed to adequately address the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages and told the public conflicting messages about the severity of the crisis.
Speaking to Yahoo Finance last Friday, Lamont offered qualified praise for the Trump administration’s shift toward addressing the outbreak.
“I think they're taking it very seriously now,” Lamont says. “That means in terms of haltingly getting us some of the supplies we need: PPE [personal protective equipment], swabs, ventilators.”