The first act of management is planning. No planning? There can be no management. Planning is thinking, identifying facts, and projecting courses of action.
There was little credible, thoughtful planning for the management of COVID-19. Instead, we got reactiveness and political posturing, just as we did in the November elections.
Above all, planning requires reliable, honest information. Planning blind is impossible. The information needs to be accurate and honest, sifted from the outlandish and the panicky. In this case, the information that most politicians acted upon was delusional.
The information coming out of China and the World Health Organization was first denied, then suppressed, then found to be inaccurate and incomplete, and ultimately dishonest. This caused tens of thousands of needless deaths around the world. (Is there such a crime as political manslaughter? There ought to be.) The deceit, dishonesty, and outright lies should be identified, and those responsible should be held accountable for the indescribable misery and deaths they have caused.
Planning requires a strong leader—such as George Washington, who guided the Constitutional Convention; or Colonel John Warden, who led the planning for the first Gulf War, which arguably was the most successful military campaign in history. (Read his book, Winning in FastTime.)
A leader organizes all of the people who will participate in the planned activity. A proper COVID-19 management team would have included business leaders, leaders of medical companies, political leaders, and military advisors who are some of the best planners in the country. The planning should have been intense, it should have accounted for all of the available and relevant information, and it could have been done within 48 to 96 hours (the Gulf War air campaign was planned by about 250 people in 48 hours).
Proper planning would have involved an articulation of the desired outcome, not a simplistic, vague goal such as “flatten the curve.” It would have emphasized doing the least harm to the economy and peoples’ businesses and livelihoods. It would have analyzed and identified our strengths, weaknesses, and resources, including all of our medical facilities and medical equipment, such as ICU beds, ventilators, and supplies. It would have identified threats and opportunities. It would have prioritized the safety of medical personnel and vulnerable populations. Critical areas, centers of gravity, would have been identified and resources would have been deployed quickly.
Instead, decisions were made serially and in a knee jerk fashion from the end of January through April: on January 29, a White House Coronavirus Task Force was established; on January 31, travel restrictions were imposed; on March 11, travel was suspended to the U.S. by foreign nationals who had recently been in European nations; on March 12, Remdesivir was promoted as a possible therapy; on March 16, a “15 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative was announced; on March 27 (two months after detection), there was an urgent order to suppliers to ramp up production of ventilators; on April 3, it was announced that the CDC would issue guidelines recommending cloth masks. All of these initiatives should have been considered right at the beginning, at the end of January and in the first week of February, and actions should have been taken throughout those months with specific intention and precise aim—not conducted haphazardly one after another. Several “what if” contingency plans should have been drafted for urgent execution if necessary.
A management team headed by experienced managers and medical experts (not by politicians, although they would have roles to play) should have been organized to direct the execution of the plan with real-time feedback. All of this should have been coordinated federally, and then executed at the state level. All of the states and the federal government should have cooperated fully, rather than squabble and jockey for political positioning. (How many lives were lost during the shameful bickering?) If real management had been applied, the entire country would not have had to shut down.
The public, rather than being subjected to the mad media messaging by the hour, would have been informed in real time by a comprehensive, credible information system, which would have significantly reduced panic. Rather than relying exclusively on medical experts, who are not managers or information professionals, the management team should have been constantly obtaining more and more accurate information, and debunking the outlandish sensationalists, such as Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College (he and several others have much to answer for).
The fact that the most powerful and advanced country in the world has performed worse than any other country (including China!) defies belief. New York City—wealthy, magnificent New York—has performed much worse than South Korea, despite having 1/6th the population.
We desperately needed management, but we got chaos.. As W. B. Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…” In this case, there was no strong, coordinated management, and things have fallen apart.