Analysis: Trump administration's coronavirus advice is secret, fragmented  and contradictory – Center for Public Integrity


Dr. Deborah Birx speaks to reporters in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., Aug. 14, 2020, after meeting with Gov. Pete Ricketts and community and state health officials. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Private calls and unpublished reports leave many Americans and local officials in the dark.



This is a news analysis from the Center for Public Integrity.

From behind a podium and a black mask, Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum faced the press. It was late July, and one percent of his city had tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.


A reporter had a question: What did Bynum have to say about the newly leaked White House Coronavirus Task Force document that recommended Tulsa close bars and limit gatherings to 10 people?

The “alleged White House document” was “never officially presented to us … by either the federal government or the state government,” the mayor said. But he was familiar with the document’s recommendations, having read them online. “All of that remains very much on the table.” 

Fast-forward a month, at a press conference that looked exactly like the last, and Bynum still hadn’t received any of the weekly reports from the White House. “It was news to me that there had been eight different reports. I only knew about the one that was leaked to the media,” he said. “That’s all data that, of course, we would like to know.”

Indeed, the White House reports — chock full of local data and recommendations — would be useful for many city leaders, many of whom still don’t know what percentage of coronavirus tests in their metro areas are positive. But Bynum and others didn’t have that information. The White House was sending each state’s report directly to its governor and a select group of other officials instead of distributing the documents widely or posting them publicly.

The nation’s coronavirus response must be “locally executed, state managed, federally supported,” White House officials have said repeatedly. In fact, much of their public health advice has been secret, segmented and inconsistent. Federal guidance isn’t always reaching the local officials it’s meant to support. And scattershot messages mean that average citizens weighing visits to grandparents or countless other daily risks have limited  — and sometimes conflicting — information from the officials they are expected to trust.



In late June, the White House Coronavirus Task Force began sending reports to governors showing how their states were faring in the pandemic. Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the task force, held the documents aloft at a press conference July 8, but they weren’t distributed to reporters. Birx said several states were in the coronavirus “red zone — with high numbers of cases — and should take special precautions, but Vice President Mike Pence delivered the primary message of the press conference: Reopen schools.

Later that month, the Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of the compiled report for all 50 states and published it, revealing that 18 states were in the red zone. The next morning, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested Public Integrity, a  30-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom, had nefarious motives for disclosing public information: “I don’t know about that particular document, and respectfully the Center for Public Integrity is an outside organization that I’m sure doesn’t support the president’s election,” she told reporters.

A spokesman for Pence, Devin O’Malley, later acknowledged the document’s authenticity. But the White House still didn’t release the reports and stayed mum on why it was keeping them secret. Weeks later, White House spokesman Judd Deere sent an email to Public Integrity that didn’t quite answer the question: “The White House Coronavirus Task Force is providing tailored recommendations weekly to every governor and health commissioner for their states and counties,” he wrote. “Local leaders are best positioned to make on-the-ground decisions for their communities … The United States will not be shut down again.”

Meanwhile, Birx hit the road, zigzagging across the country to meet with governors in person and privately urge some of them to ratchet up virus precautions. On closed-to-the-press conference calls with state and local officials, Birx warned individual cities that they should take “aggressive action” to curb the coronavirus, according to recordings obtained by Public Integrity.

But officials from those cities weren’t always on the calls: Baltimore and Cleveland leaders missed a call in which Birx pinpointed them. And some of them weren’t getting the reports she was referencing. In late August, the most recent White House report the Arkansas Department of Health had was three weeks old. 

Public health experts say the reports should be public. “This is a pandemic,” Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage told Public Integrity in July. “You cannot hide it under the carpet.”

Dr. David Rubin, who has provided epidemiological modeling to the task force as director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, is also befuddled as to why the reports are secret. “I think we’d be in a lot different place today if we had national standards around certain things,” he said. But he doesn’t blame Birx or other scientists working with the White House. “They’re playing the hand that they were dealt.”



In mid-March, a 4×6” blue-and-white postcard appeared in mailboxes across the nation, emblazoned with “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” and both the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logos. On the back were a dozen lines of advice, including: “Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others.”

The postcard appeared in the days when the president, vice president, Birx and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci together updated the nation daily on television about the state of the coronavirus. The administration had already pressed the mute button on the CDC (though the agency posted guidance online, it wasn’t giving the regular briefings it had in past epidemics), but the White House was still attempting to send out a cohesive public health message.  

Then, as the economy cratered, Trump shifted gears to reopening and pushed responsibility for the pandemic response to the states. After decades of relying on national entities for public health advice and regulation — the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the surgeon general and others — America handed responsibility for infectious-disease containment to the states. 

Doing so allows governors to respond to their unique virus conditions, defenders of the administration said. The U.S. needs “a decentralized approach” said Heritage Foundation visiting fellow Doug Badger, because states have police powers to enforce lockdowns and because they are “better suited to responding to this pandemic, where there is great variation between and within states. […] There’s no one-size-fits-all policy.” Indeed, epidemics unfold at different rates in different geographies, and it makes sense to adjust advice based on whether people live close together or far apart, and how widely the virus is spreading in their communities.

But experts say that even though some public health warnings should be specific to local areas, many messages, such as the need to wear masks, should be nationally consistent. Contradictory guidance undermines trust, and the virus exploits the communities with weakest defenses. “Diseases don’t care about national or state borders,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, Science Communication Lead at the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer organization collecting pandemic data. “You can’t look at this in a fragmented way otherwise we’re going to continue this fragmented progress.”


“Diseases don’t care about national or state borders.”



And some think the Trump administration’s advice isn’t as tailored or helpful as it should be. “For weeks, the Trump Administration has been issuing these cookie-cutter reports based on little or no review of existing regulations or conditions on the ground, while failing to pull together a national strategy for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and response,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, wrote in an email. “None of the recommendations in these weekly reports have been paired with the resources or the federal support to implement them.”

In addition, Trump’s desire for state leadership has been selective. After weeks of insisting on a governor-led response, in July Trump Tweeted, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” and threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that did not open their doors. 



Splitting public health advice into pieces means that some of those fragments don’t line up. On a private call with state and local leaders earlier this month, Birx said colleges should be testing students as they return to campus, and even be prepared to do 5,000 or 10,000 tests in one day. But the CDC hasn’t endorsed such testing because its effectiveness hasn’t been “systematically studied.”

Nowhere has the fractured advice been more evident than on the topic of how to reopen K-12 schools. The CDC in May issued guidelines, but later replaced them with a more lenient version after the president objected. After insisting schools open their doors, Trump acknowledged that some hot spots may need to delay opening. CDC director Robert Redfield said that schools should go virtual if their areas have more than 5 percent test positivity — a threshold that only 17 states and the District of Columbia met as of Aug. 26 according to a New York Times tracker. Birx has stayed noticeably quiet on the topic. The secret reports from her task force recently endorsed West Virginia’s school reopening guidelines, which say schools must switch to virtual learning if daily new cases in a county exceed 25 per 100,000 residents.

All this leaves local officials with a dizzying set of choices and advice, stuck making the decisions others don’t want blame for.

“This really stinks for local health departments,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “Everybody wants to relinquish authority to the local health department. The authority ends up coming and going depending on how hard it is to address the issue. And it just is not fair to them.”

In addition, perhaps due in part to the mixed messaging, whatever advice the White House does have isn’t always followed. In Arkansas, where the task force has recommended that bars close, they remain open. In Georgia, where the task force recommended a state mask mandate, Gov. Brian Kemp sued to block Atlanta from requiring face coverings, though he later relented. In Tennessee in July, Gov. Bill Lee ignored Birx’s suggestion that he close bars, limit indoor dining and mandate masks.

All this has meant that in the first major pandemic in a century, despite the feeble and disjointed efforts of the White House to corral them, the United States were not united, not even in the messages sent to citizens. That has some experts worried about what’s to come in the fall, when the reluctance of some to be vaccinated could mean the nation fails to reach the threshold for herd immunity that would protect everyone. Rivera, of the Covid Tracking Project, is “absolutely terrified” about that possibility; united messaging is key when trying to help people understand the scientific rigor behind a vaccine, she said. “All it takes is one rumor to completely shift public health behavior.”



In Tulsa, Bynum can now see all the White House reports. That’s because Public Integrity published a recent Oklahoma report, and local journalists pressed the governor on why he hadn’t handed it out. Last week he agreed to post all of the state’s White House reports.

In other parts of the country, people still don’t know what White House experts are saying about their states or counties. The federal map of red, yellow and green zones — an easy-to-understand stoplight that could help people quickly decide whether to cross state lines, for example — remains off limits to the public. President Trump resumed daily coronavirus briefings this month, but Birx remains relegated to private calls and local press briefings on her treks across states. The CDC continues its silence; Fauci is recovering from a vocal cord surgery and can’t speak.

For more than a century, Congress has given the federal government a prominent role in helping stop the spread of disease from state to state. Americans can debate whether governors or the president should make the big decisions in this particular pandemic. But neither statute nor scientific wisdom puts limits on the federal government’s ability to dole out health advice. And there is no national security reason to make such advice secret.



Patchwork approach to contact tracing hampers national recovery

Patchwork approach to contact tracing hampers national recovery | TheHill

A patchwork approach to contact tracing across state health departments is making it increasingly difficult to know where people are getting exposed to COVID-19.

While some states like Louisiana and Washington state publicly track detailed data related to COVID-19 cases in bars, camps, daycares, churches, worksites and restaurants, most states do not, creating obstacles to preventing future cases.

The extensive spread of the virus, combined with the country’s 50-state approach to pandemic response, has led to a dearth of information about where transmissions are occurring. Those shortcomings are in turn complicating efforts to safely open the economy and to understand the risks associated with certain activities and settings.

Experts know COVID-19 spreads in crowded indoor spaces, but more specifics could help state and local lawmakers strike a better balance between public health needs and those of the economy.

“If you want to take a more targeted approach to public health measures, the more information you have the better,” said Joshua Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation and an infectious disease epidemiologist.

“Rather than have a blunt, close-everything-down approach, you could be a bit more targeted and surgical about how you implement certain measures,” he added.

The Hill asked every state for information about the data they collect and share as part of their contact tracing programs, one of the main tools public health officials have to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most states release information about outbreaks and cases at congregate settings like nursing homes, meatpacking plants, and prisons, which comprise the majority of cases. But there is less information publicly available about the numbers of cases or outbreaks tied to other settings commonly visited by people.

A handful of states including ArkansasColoradoKansasLouisianaMaryland, Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington track and publicly release data on the settings where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring, according to responses from state health departments.

For example, Louisiana has tied 468 cases to bars in the state, but most of the new cases in the past week have been tied to food processing plants.

In The Hill’s review of publicly available state data, other settings for COVID-19 transmission include restaurants, childcare centers, gyms, colleges and schools, churches, retailers, weddings and other private social events. It is not clear how widely those settings contributed to infections because widespread transmission of the virus means many people who get sick do not get interviewed by contact tracers — over the past week, there has been an average of 42,000 confirmed cases, though many more are likely going undetected.

State health departments in Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia told The Hill they don’t track location data.

Utah tracks outbreaks and cases tied to workplaces and schools, but not restaurants or bars.

Arizona, California, Delaware, Indiana, Oregon and Pennsylvania track infection locations, but don’t release it to the public.

“The number of people getting COVID-19 from isolated, identifiable outbreaks, such as those in long term care facilities, is decreasing, and more people are contracting COVID-19 from being out and about in their community, such as when visiting restaurants and bars,” said Maggi Mumma, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Bars, indoor dining and gyms are still closed in most of New York and New Jersey, so there is no current data to track for those settings.

But the state health departments also don’t release data on outbreaks or cases tied to other settings like childcare or retail stores.

MinnesotaMontanaNorth Dakota and Wisconsin release the number of cases tied to outbreaks in the community but do not go into specifics about possible transmission sites.

For example, Minnesota lists nearly 7,000 cases as being tied to “community” exposure, but that includes settings like restaurants, bars and workspaces.

In Iowa, a state health department spokesperson said the agency is working on extracting and sharing this type of data on its website, while Maine would not say if they track by specific location.

The remaining state health departments did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill and don’t have information about outbreaks or exposure settings on their websites.

Several states said local health departments may be tracking infection locations even if the state is not.

Experts said such a decentralized approach can miss outbreaks if local departments aren’t communicating with each other, meaning any data should be public.

“I do think it would be very valuable for states to make that information public,” said Crystal Watson, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“It helps us collectively get a better understanding as policymakers, as people trying to help in the response. It can also help with personal decision making for people to understand … where it’s most dangerous to go related to getting infected,” Watson said.

The disparities between state health departments are partially due to a lack of federal guidance.

There are no federal requirements on the information contact tracers collect; guidelines vary from state to state, and sometimes from county to county.

Tracking data about where people are getting sick would allow states to take a “cluster busting” approach, experts said, by working backwards from confirmed cases to find where patients might have first contracted the disease, potentially stopping future outbreaks.

That approach requires a change in mindset for contact tracers, who typically focus on reaching close contacts of confirmed cases who might have been exposed to the virus. But research shows between 10 and 20 percent of people are responsible for about 80 percent of new infections, mostly through so-called super-spreader events.

“We know that the way this virus has transmitted is highly clustered groups and anytime you have settings where a lot of people are together in one place,” said Kaiser’s Michaud.

“Collecting good information on this — the cluster busting approach — is a good way to find out where your prevention efforts can have the best bang for your buck,” he said.

At the same time, some state programs are still not operating at full force and are struggling to keep up with widespread infections.

“I think that many parts of the country, especially outside of the Northeast … simply have too many cases to use contact tracing as the primary public health measure to control cases,”  said Stephen Kissler, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health.

“It’s just not enough,” he said. “We just don’t have enough resources, and in a lot of these places enough contact tracers, to follow up on all of the cases.”






History tells us trying to stop diseases like COVID-19 at the border is a failed strategy

History tells us trying to stop diseases like COVID-19 at the border is a failed  strategy

To explain why the coronavirus pandemic is much worse in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, commentators have blamed the federal government’s mismanaged response and the lack of leadership from the Trump White House.

Others have pointed to our culture of individualism, the decentralized nature of our public health, and our polarized politics.

All valid explanations, but there’s another reason, much older, for the failed response: our approach to fighting infectious disease, inherited from the 19th century, has become overly focused on keeping disease out of the country through border controls.

As a professor of medical sociology, I’ve studied the response to infectious disease and public health policy. In my new book, “Diseased States,” I examine how the early experience of outbreaks in Britain and the United States shaped their current disease control systems. I believe that America’s preoccupation with border controls has hurt our nation’s ability to manage the devastation produced by a domestically occurring outbreak of disease.

Germ theory and the military

Though outbreaks of yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera occurred throughout the 19th century, the federal government didn’t take the fight against infectious disease seriously until the yellow fever outbreak of 1878. During that same year, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the National Quarantine Act, the first federal disease control legislation.

By the early 20th century, a distinctly American approach to disease control had evolved: “New Public Health.” It was markedly different from the older European concept of public health, which emphasized sanitation and social conditions. Instead, U.S. health officials were fascinated by the newly popular “germ theory,” which theorized that microorganisms, too small to be seen by the naked eye, caused disease. The U.S. became focused on isolating the infectious. The typhoid carrier Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary,” was isolated on New York’s Brother Island for 23 years of her life.

Originally, the military managed disease control. After the yellow fever outbreak, the U.S. Marine Hospital Service (MHS) was charged with operating maritime quarantine stations countrywide. In 1912, the MHS became the U.S. Public Health Service; to this day, that includes the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps led by the surgeon general. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started as a military organization during World War II, as the Malaria Control in War Areas program. Connecting the military to disease control promoted the notion that an attack of infectious disease was like an invasion of a foreign enemy.

Germ theory and military management put the U.S. system of disease control down a path in which it prioritized border controls and quarantine throughout the 20th century. During the 1918 influenza pandemicNew York City held all incoming ships at quarantine stations and forcibly removed sick passengers into isolation to a local hospital. Other states followed suit. In Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis isolated all flu patients in a special ward of the city hospital and then denied them visitors. During the 1980s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service denied HIV-positive persons from entering the country and tested over three million potential immigrants for HIV.

Defending the nation from the external threat of disease generally meant stopping the potentially infectious from ever entering the country and isolating those who were able to gain entry.

Our mistakes

This continues to be our predominant strategy in the 21st century. One of President Trump’s first coronavirus actions was to enforce a travel ban on China and then to limit travel from Europe.

His actions were nothing new. In 2014, during the Ebola outbreakCaliforniaNew York and New Jersey created laws to forcibly quarantine health care workers returning from west Africa. New Jersey put this into practice when it isolated U.S. nurse Kaci Hickox after she returned from Sierra Leone, where she was treating Ebola patients.

In 2007, responding to pandemic influenza, the Department of Homeland Security and the CDC developed a “do not board” list to stop potentially infected people from traveling to the U.S.

When such actions stop outbreaks from occurring, they are obviously sound public policy. But when a global outbreak is so large that it’s impossible to keep out, then border controls and quarantine are no longer useful.

This is what has happened with the coronavirus. With today’s globalization, international travel, and an increasing number of pandemics, attempting to keep infectious disease from ever entering the country looks more and more like a futile effort.

Moreover, the U.S. preoccupation with border controls means we did not invest as much as we should have in limiting the internal spread of COVID-19. Unlike countries that mounted an effective response, the U.S. has lagged behind in testingcontact tracing, and the development of a robust health care system able to handle a surge of infected patients. The longstanding focus on stopping an outbreak from ever occurring left us more vulnerable when it inevitably did.

For decades, the U.S. has been underfunding public health. When “swine flu” struck the country in 2009, the CDC said 159 million doses of flu shots were needed to cover “high risk” groups, particularly health care workers and pregnant women. We only produced 32 million doses. And in a pronouncement that now looks prescient, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report said if the swine flu outbreak had been any worse, U.S. health departments would have been overwhelmed. By the time Ebola appeared in 2014, the situation was no better. Once again, multiple government reports slammed our response to the outbreak.

Many causes exist for the U.S.‘s failed response to this crisis. But part of the problem lies with our past battles with disease. By emphasizing border controls and quarantine, the U.S. has disregarded more practical strategies of disease control. We can’t change the past, but by learning from it, we can develop more effective ways of dealing with future outbreaks.





Six months ago, Trump said that coronavirus cases would soon go to zero. They … didn’t.


But with new constraints on testing, Trump may get his wish eventually.

It was exactly six months ago Wednesday when the spread of the coronavirus in the United States had become too significant for President Trump to wave away. He and several members of the team planning the administration’s response held a news briefing designed to inform the public about the virus and, more important, to allay concerns.

This was the briefing in which Trump made one of his most wildly incorrect assertions about what the country could expect.

“The level that we’ve had in our country is very low,” Trump said, referring to new confirmed infections, “and those people are getting better, or we think that in almost all cases they’re better, or getting. We have a total of 15. We took in some from Japan — you heard about that — because they’re American citizens, and they’re in quarantine.”

That part was generally true. At the time, there had been only a smattering of confirmed cases, with the addition of passengers from the cruise ship Diamond Princess pushing the confirmed total to more than 50.

“So, again,” he added later, “when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

It was a brash prediction and seemingly an off-the-cuff one. Trump’s point was less about what was going to happen than arguing that his administration had done a good job. But by linking those two things, he made it simple for observers to use his assertion that the number of cases would fade as a baseline for measuring everything that followed.

Over time, more cases from the period before Feb. 26 would be discovered, including two early deaths in California from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. There were actually almost 200 cases that would eventually be confirmed by the time Trump was saying the country would go from 15 to zero.

The experts standing behind Trump would have known that Trump’s claims were inaccurate. As the briefing was underway, The Washington Post reported a confirmed case of “community spread” — a documented infection that couldn’t be traced to international travel. In other words, it was uncontained: The virus was moving from person to person without impediment or detection.

Although about 200 cases in that period eventually would be confirmed, even that number was far lower than the reality. Researchers can use documented cases to estimate the number of cases that weren’t being detected and that also weren’t later confirmed through testing. For example, an estimate produced by data scientist Youyang Gu puts the likely number of new infections on Feb. 26 somewhere in the range of 13,000 to 25,000.

On that day alone.

Within a month, the country would go from Trump’s 15 cases to nearly 88,000 cases. By April 26, the total was nearly a million. By May 26, 1.7 million. The most recent total is north of 5.7 million.

That steady increase is in part a function of Trump repeating the same mistake over and over, portraying the pandemic as ending or functionally ended. As cases faded a bit in May and June, he pushed for a return to normal economic activity, triggering a new surge in confirmed cases. That second increase has been fading for about a month, happily, but the country is still adding 33 percent more confirmed new cases each day than it did at the peak in April.

That’s confirmed cases, a metric that relies on testing. Gu’s estimates of the actual spread of the virus put the country about 40 percent below the peak in daily new cases, which was reached in early July.

Trump, of course, blames testing for revealing the scale of the pandemic in the first place. He has a point, in a way: Had the United States never managed to solve its problems with testing, something that took weeks, there wouldn’t have been millions of confirmed cases. There would still have been millions of cases or, perhaps, tens of millions of cases. We just wouldn’t have known how many there were.

It has been about two months since Trump held a political rally in Tulsa, contributing to a new surge of cases in the city. There, he made a tongue-in-cheek reference to asking his team to slow down on testing, because it was pushing the number of confirmed cases higher. As they say, though, each joke contains a grain of truth, and it was clear that Trump, in fact, would be happy to see the number of tests drop so that the number of confirmed cases did as well.

Data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project show that he has gotten his wish, to a degree. Over the past month, the number of tests being completed each day in the United States has dropped by nearly one-fifth.

Part of this is a function of interference from natural disasters, with storms in Florida and fires in California limiting testing capacity. Part of it, too, is probably a function of the drop in the number of cases coming back positive. Fewer new cases means fewer people feeling sick and seeking tests to confirm an infection. The drop in the percent of tests coming back positive reinforces that trend.

But, increasingly, part of it will stem from the administration de-emphasizing testing. New guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that those who had been in contact with an infected person no longer needed to be tested, particularly when asymptomatic.

This, too, has been something Trump has talked about a lot, complaining that people without symptoms were being tested and confirmed as positive — and added to the total number of infections.

“Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day,” Trump said in an interview on July 19. “They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.”

The reason it’s important to track asymptomatic cases, of course, is that those people can still infect others. To defeat the pandemic, we need to contain it, and the new CDC approach runs the significant risk of leaving large holes in that containment effort. But, with the presidential election only about 70 days away, it will mean fewer confirmed cases.

The irony of Trump’s complaints about the virus from the outset is that the United States’ confirmed infection totals already have been minimized because of limited testing. The reason Trump was able to claim that there were only 15 cases six months ago was that the administration had spent the month since the first confirmed case in the country unable to put together a robust testing regimen that would allow the virus to be constrained. South Korea, where such a regimen was quickly implemented, actually did see its virus numbers drop to near zero.

In other words, Trump’s prediction was not only wrong, it was wrong in large part because Trump’s team hadn’t done what would have been needed to make it come true. Trump portrays himself as an unwitting victim of the pandemic, but his comment six months ago Wednesday is a good reminder that he can put a lot of the blame for his position on himself.




Five Frequencies That Are Driving Your Culture (for better or worse)

IS YOUR CULTURE holding you back? Are the signals you are broadcasting as a leader, creating the culture you want—you need?

Culture experts Jeff Grimshaw, Tanya Mann, Lynne Viscio, and Jennifer Landis say in Five Frequencies that to make a good culture great, leaders must deliberately transmit strong and steady signals. Leaders create culture for better or worse, through the signals they are consciously or unconsciously broadcasting over five frequencies. To change a culture, you need to broadcast a strong, steady signal on each of these frequencies:


Their Decisions and Actions

Example is everything—especially when it is inconvenient and costs you something. If it is truly a “value,” what are you willing to pay for it? Think in the long-term. “Go long-term greedy.” “This can mean avoiding ethical shortcuts, hiring people smarter than you, delegating more, and helping prepare high performers for success beyond your team.”


What They Reward and Recognize

Reward the behaviors you want to see more of. “You are responsible for the dysfunctional behaviors that so bother you.” Everyone brings their emotions to work. “Understand and leverage the emotional algorithms that motivate your people.” Understand that it is all relative, scarcity and timing matter, and everyone appreciates being appreciated.


What They Tolerate (Or Don’t)

“Leaders are ultimately defined by what they tolerate.” Be sure the boundaries are clearly defined as well as the consequences. And don’t make excuses because you don’t want to feel bad or you can’t hold a particular star performer accountable, or because it’s really no big deal. It’s all-important, and consistency is vital.

What you tolerate or don’t tolerate is a balance. “When you decide to become more tolerant of some things (like where people work), you must become, if anything, less tolerant of other things (like the work not getting done). As Harvard professor Gary P. Pisano puts it:”


A tolerance for failure requires an intolerance for incompetence. A willingness to experiment requires rigorous discipline. Psychological safety requires comfort with brutal candor. Collaboration must be balanced with individual accountability.


How They Show Up Informally

When you show up, you “bring the weather.” People notice a leader’s tone, mood, and focus. They are weather in any organization. What do kind of weather do you bring?

When considering how you show up, the authors advise you to relinquish your raft. They introduce the concept with a story:


A traveler on an important journey comes to a raging river. It seems there’s no way to cross. And that’s terrible news because this is an important journey. Fortunately, she spots a rickety old raft on the bank, off in the brush. With trepidation, she pushes the raft into the water, hops on, and amazingly, uses it to reach the other side. She’s able to continue her important journey. She thinks: I may encounter other raging rivers down the path, so I must keep this raft. So she carries the raft on her back as she continues her journey. It’s a heavy raft, and it slows her down. When fellow travelers point this out, she’s incredulous: “You don’t understand,” she says. “If it wasn’t for this raft, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” And she’s right. That’s literally true. The problem is: If she doesn’t put down the raft, she may not get to where she needs to go on her important journey.


It’s your baggage. It’s your reactive tendencies that may have worked for you in the past that are no longer getting you where you need to be. Reactive tendencies like going with the flow, control, the need to be the hero, or being overly protective of your ego, eventually bring you diminishing returns.


Their Formal Communications

Formal communications don’t work on their own, but they serve to reinforce the other four frequencies. Approach your communications as a story to make it memorable. And say it over and over. “Go past the puke point because that’s often the turning point where employees are just starting to truly get it.”

Have a backstory. Know where you came from. “Look for stories of people demonstrating the behavior you want to see more of, especially when it’s not easy for them to do so.” Fill the communication vacuums. “Don’t push your people to the black market.”


Know, Feel, Do

To establish a reliable culture, you need to measure where you are and where you need to go. The authors call it Know, Feel, Do: what employees know, what they feel, and what they do.

The authors advise us to work backward and forwards. Looking forward, they ask, “What is the culture that makes this outcome possible and probable? What will employees consistently KNOW? FEEL? DO?” Looking at each of the five signals, what will you need to broadcast to your employees in each of the five signal areas?

It is also necessary to look backward and see where your current culture came from. What did each of the signals contribute to your current culture? It will help you to know what to change in order to close the gap from where to are to where you want to be.