The Coronavirus Pandemic has upset normal life, isolating and unnerving literally hundreds of millions in
more than 192 countries. More than 378,342 cases of the COVID-19 virus have occurred with more than
16,872 fatalities. The epicenter has moved from Italy, Spain, France and the UK to the US. The latter
with more than 52,215 cases of coronavirus confirmed by lab tests and 675 deaths. New York has become
the hot spot with 25,665 of the US COVID-19 cases. 8 US States are under home stay lockdown covering
more than one third of the country’s population. India has declared a lockdown for its 1.8 billion
population. Israel has 1,442 cases with 3 fatalities, and possible exposures of up to one million.
Rod Bryant and Jerry Gordon reached out to discuss these issues with Tevi Troy, Presidential historian,
former US Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, member of a Presidential bipartisan ‘blue
ribbon’ panel on Bioterrorism who was Bush 43 White House aide. He is the author of several books on
the Presidency, notably, “Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the
Oval Office” (2016) and “Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump”. He comes
from a noted family. His brother Gil Troy is a noted historian who has authored over 10 books and is
a columnist for The Jerusalem Post. His brother Dan Troy is a lawyer and former Chief Counsel
at the FDA, an expert in health law and food and drug policies.
In his 2016 “Shall We Wake the President” Troy predicted the conundrum we currently face with the
coronavirus threat. “I was raising this issue of coronavirus and I said, we have vaccines and
countermeasures and antivirals for flu, but we do not have them for coronavirus, and we need to
develop them. I don’t know why the US government hasn’t moved faster on that. I think that
there are larger issues at play in terms of prioritizing development of countermeasures”.
Because of his membership in a Presidential Bioterror panel co- by former Homeland Security
Secretary Tom Ridge and former Connecticut US Senator Joseph Lieberman, he emphasizes the
importance of “tabletop” simulation exercises. Something that Israel practices in developing
national security strategies and policies. Troy cited one example from a “dirty bomb” exercise of
relevance to the current coronavirus crisis. “You can’t just go into these high-pressure
government environments and be thrown into a crisis and told to deal with the situation. You
must know what each agency’s role is, what their capabilities are, what are some of the legal
pitfalls that you might encounter. I remember one specifically involving a dirty bomb attack in
the Southwest. It spawns a sickness in the Midwest. What do you do? A problem that we did not
anticipate before we started the simulation was the degree to which hospitals were overrun. Not
just overrun with people who are sick but overrun with what’s known as the ‘worried well’.
People who think they might have a symptom because they heard something on TV, or they want
to check it out to be sure. “Worried well” is something that we’ve been seeing as a challenge with
Coronavirus. People who think that they have a problem, they’re going to the hospital. This is
just the wrong thing to do because, if they don’t have it, it could expose them to it. If they do
have it, they could be exposing others to it. I think these simulations are extremely helpful”.
Troy is skeptical of government’s ability to help the individual in the timeframe in which the
help would be required. “I think that the government has an important role to play, but
individuals must also prepare for disasters and cannot count on the government to bail them out
when they are in trouble”. Here are some of his practical suggestions. “There are things that you
can think about like, “Maybe, I didn’t have enough water. Maybe I do need something else for
home protection. Maybe I should have a more secure lock. Maybe I should make sure that the
kids have their vaccinations up to date. I should have my first aid kit ready”. There are all kinds
of things that you can think about going on with current crisis that you should be prepared for.
One thing that is interesting in this crisis is supermarkets are still open. You can go to a
supermarket and get food except for a few products like toilet paper. … These are not strategies
for you to live forever. These are strategies for you to get through a brief period when the
government may not be able to help you as an individual until the system reasserts itself and then
the brilliance of markets allow the supermarkets to be replenished and you can be able to access
One of worst Presidents Troy cites is Woodrow Wilson who compounded the 1918 Flu
“There was a propaganda arm in the United States government led by George Creel. This
propaganda arm was designed to help fight World War I by suppressing any dissent or bad news.
It restricted any discussion of the 1918 flu that raged and killed 675,000 Americans. People
didn’t have open conversations about it as we are having in newspapers today. We were sending
US troops to Europe to fight World War I. Those troop transports were spreading the disease
among the US military personnel and among the people of Europe. Wilson’s personal doctor
urged him to stop those troop transports and they had a showdown in the White House where the
Army Chief of Staff said, “No, we cannot stop these troop transports, they are too urgent,
there’s… The war’s going on.” It was only one month before the war ended, but Wilson went
along with the Army Chief of Staff, he continued to troop transports and out of the 116,000 US
military personnel who died in World War I, 43,000 of them died from the flu”.
Troy contrasted the performance of St. Louis versus Philadelphia during the 1918 Flu Epidemic.
“St. Louis instituted social distancing, like what we’re seeing today. They said, “No large church
services, no parades, no movie theaters.” Philadelphia failed to do so. They waited for two
crucial weeks and let people get together, they let certain parades take place. The death rate in St.
Louis was 1/5 that of Philadelphia”.
Troy also discussed a few incidents of conflicts between Presidents and aides in his latest book,
“Fight House”. In 1948 President Truman was briefed by Chief of Staff Clark Clifford on the
rationale for recognizing the new State of Israel against the objections of Secretary of State and
World War II Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. The result was Marshall never spoke to
Clifford for the rest of his life.
A poignant aspect of the current coronavirus Pandemic impacted Troy and his brothers recently,
the ability to hold a minyan following the recent death of their late mother, the subject of a recent
Wall Street Journal opinion. He noted the advice of his rabbi. “He said it is more important to be
following the rules and preventing the spread of this disease and saving lives than to say Kaddish
which is a custom, but not a law. And then on top of it, he said that I should do some Jewish
learning with each prayer service that I do individually, in order to honor the soul of my mother”.
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