Donald Trump’s secretary of health and human services awaits the verdict of history on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a District of Columbia court, Alex Azar is home free.
A month before Joe Biden became president, federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth threw out a lawsuit against Azar and others filed by former Escondido resident Arthur West.
West — who also failed to force Fox News to halt and retract its alleged “hoax” coverage of the coronavirus — sued Azar and his agency over its COVID-reporting policies, saying they “precipitously directed hospitals to cease reporting data” to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network.
The judge dismissed the July 22 suit by the Olympia, Washington, resident and wouldn’t even allow him to submit an amended complaint.
“Mr. West’s vague allegation that his civil rights have been curtailed does not provided a basis for the Court to conclude that he has suffered an individualized injury,” Lamberth wrote Dec. 23.
The judge called his arguments of harm speculative, and said West lacked standing to sue.
West, a nonlawyer who has made a tidy living from winning suits in Washington state, says the case raised important issues and was the right thing to do, “especially since the numbers of people dying continue to surge.”
When he filed the suit in D.C. federal court, 135,000 Americans had died of COVID-19. Now the toll is over 430,000.
“It was worth the approximately $800 out of pocket costs it took to prosecute it,” West said last week. “I have been accused of using ‘hit and run’ tactics, but sometimes the better part of valor is to fold your campaign tent and move on.”
In any case, he think he’s prevailed.
“I always like to win lawsuits, but this one I think we won at the ballot box,” he said. “And I don’t think anyone can fault the new administration for taking this problem seriously and attempting to adopt a science-based national strategy.”
With Biden’s team taking a completely different tack than Trump’s, he said, “I am very hopeful that we at least have a chance at beating this disease now.”
The linchpin of West’s suit against Azar, his department and the Centers for Disease Control was that they violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
His suit said it was “manifestly apparent that such an unprecedented policy change presented extraordinary circumstances with foreseeable significant impact upon the human environment and human health, mandating some form of adequate review under NEPA.”
A week ago, The Department of Health and Human Services sought formal approval for the website it created to collect daily COVID-19 data from about 5,500 hospitals.
“HHS posted an information collection request Friday in the Federal Register for its Teletracking COVID-19 Portal, which replaced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network collecting hospital coronavirus data in July,” reported Fedscoop.com.
It added: “The portal allows hospitals to directly report coronavirus data requested by HHS on patients tested, bed capacity and supply requirements. The data then informs the government’s understanding of the spread and helps craft prevention and control policies.”
West, who lived in Escondido in the late 1980s, said the Biden team is adopting a science-based strategy so “there’s really nothing left to sue over because they’re doing everything that the National Environmental Policy Act review would require.”
On Jan. 21, Biden signed an executive order to ensure “a data-driven response to COVID-19 and future high-consequence public health threats.”
“I can’t think of anything they’re doing wrong right now,” West said. “Once people look at exactly what happened (under Trump), the actual mechanics of our coronavirus response. … it’s going to be looked on historically as one of the greatest failures of all time of any administration.”