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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump's White House may matter less in coronavirus crisis as weeks go by

Health care professionals around the world, such as

Health care professionals around the world, such as this one in Italy, are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: EPA / Filippo Venezia

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

When it comes to federal policy, the die seems cast.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected final approval Friday of the emergency $2.2 trillion bill that promises a record surge of cash into the economy. For both parties at the Capitol, time is up for slogans about big government, socialism, capitalism and nationalism.

As virus infection numbers mount, and underequipped hospitals scramble to react, it matters less each day how quickly the U.S. imposed emergency travel restrictions or when the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to practically nothing. The markets will do what they do, and communities from one state or locality to the next will cope as best as they can.

Businesses, except those deemed essential, are ordered shut all over and won't reopen until local authorities deem it wise as a matter of public health. Weekly jobless claims, meanwhile, hit a record-breaking 3,283,000. The recession is here.

Worldwide health trends are not an American burden, but they do affect us.

NBC News reported Thursday that China, where the infections first were found, has been stepping in to help virus-stricken Italy, promising a thousand ventilators and 2 million masks.

The information and data most widely relied upon comes from the World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

The news site Defense One, which reports on military matters, described concerns about delayed efforts to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Pentagon officials had little say in how to shield troops, employees, dependents and contractors.

“I think the slow decision making resulted in a mixed response,” a military officer based in Washington told Defense One. “People knew what was coming down the pipe, but weren’t necessarily in a position to implement policy changes because they hadn’t received formal guidance."

But that's now in the rearview mirror along with President Donald Trump's earlier remarks minimizing potential health impacts, as well as his dream of an Easter "opening," and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow's assurances on Feb. 25 that the U.S. had "contained" the virus, "pretty close to airtight."

All that now is as irrelevant to the day's problems as President Herbert Hoover's declaration was on the cusp of the Great Depression: “Prosperity is just around the corner."

Separating vital public information from the president's factually challenged grandstanding before the cameras reportedly has become difficult for television executives.

What big Oval Office policy directives are left to discuss? Warning against occult science could be helpful. But using the spotlight to grouse about hardball media coverage and snipe at political critics is not.

Whether the executive branch can or will salve medical-supply shortages by ordering up production may or may not be a practical question at this point.

Federal officials of course will have decisions to make in the weeks ahead.

But all over the world, any chance of shutting out the pandemic and averting a recession has passed.

Keeping federal agencies functioning, helping states with health care and executing details of relief legislation may be the main crisis tasks left — if the White House can manage those.

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