Former director of pandemic office disbanded by Trump explains how it could have helped coronavirus response

Dr. Beth Cameron: “One of the major roles” was to coordinate globally and “identify problems before they became issues that were much harder to solve”

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Citation From the March 20, 2020, edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): Beth Cameron, you wrote for The Washington Post on March 13th, "I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it." And you talked about the mission of the office. The mission was to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. And you say you were mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like COVID-19. What opportunities were missed without this office? What could have been avoided?

DR. BETH CAMERON (FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY AND BIODEFENSE ON THE WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL): Thank you so much. I think we did lose valuable time in closing the office. So the goal of the office was really to have a senior level -- senior director official whose only job it was to handle pandemic threats, and that was a lesson that we learned from the ebola epidemic. Because we were obviously devastated by ebola, but as unprepared as we were for that, we knew that we were even less prepared for something like COVID-19, which we're now facing. I think that the office would have been able to send up smoke signals earlier. I think that the office would have been able to coordinate a whole-of-government response more quickly. One of the major roles of the office was to work directly with domestic agencies and global agencies, coordinate with global partners around the world and really help to identify problems before they became issues that were much harder to solve. So I absolutely think that it would have helped.


WILLIE GEIST (CO-HOST): Hey Beth, it's Willie Geist. We appreciate you being on with us this morning. I would point out that Dr. Anthony Fauci himself said last week in Congressional testimony, talking about the office you used to lead, quote, "it would be nice if the office was still there." But we have two great, innovative minds in front of us. You're not in the administration at this point. That's too bad you're not on the inside. But here you are. So let's look forward. What can we be doing right now? We just heard the pleas from Mayor Bill de Blasio for medical supplies so that hospitals can continue their business and keep people safe and healthy and treat those who do come in with COVID-19. From where you sit right now, what should the government be doing this morning, at this minute, right now?

CAMERON: So I think you heard from Mayor de Blasio quite clearly that personal protective equipment supplies and supplies for test kits are the thing that we're hearing most from state and local officials. So I do agree with him that we should be implementing the Defense Production Act immediately at this time. I think we are at that point, and I think that we need to show state and local officials that there is absolutely help coming and help coming really quickly. It seems there is a little bit of a disconnect between some of the statements about personal protective equipment supplies and what's actually happening at the state and local level. But I also want to point out the other thing that I think is missing and the U.S. government could actually be leading on is a global response. So these commodities -- personal protective equipment, nasal swabs, ventilators -- these are global commodities and I think that a global response with the US in the lead would make us safer here in the United States in the end.