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Former FEMA director on the coronavirus: "Until we have a vaccine, this will not be going back to normal"

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Craig Fugate, who served under President Obama as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for both terms, is no stranger to disaster response. But the coronavirus pandemic offers a unique struggle for the federal government, Fugate said, even as governors are able to work with FEMA to respond to their individual state needs.

Fugate spoke to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett for this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast.

Listen to this episode on ART19

Key quotes from former FEMA director Craig Fugate:

  • Returning to normal life after the coronavirus: "Until we have a vaccine, this will not be going back to normal."
  • The need to act in a bipartisan manner during crisis: "Disasters don't really care about your affiliation."
  • Effect of the Great Recession on America's preparedness for a pandemic: "We went through probably one of the biggest reductions of public health capacity as a nation because of that recession."

Fugate talked about the strategic national stockpile, which helps provides states with supplies during a public health crisis. The stockpile is nearly out of personal protective equipment to hand to states, the Department of Health and Human Services told the Associated Press. Fugate said the stockpile was initially created to assist states in case of biological, chemical, or nuclear disasters, as well as natural hazards.

"It was never built for a pandemic," Fugate said.

Fugate told Garrett that the Great Recession and sequestration policies enacted during the Obama administration had resulted in diminished federal public health resources.

"We went through probably one of the biggest reductions of public health capacity as a nation because of that Recession," Fugate said.

But he also believes that it's important not to get caught up in partisan politics during a pandemic.

"Disasters don't really care about your affiliation," he said, saying that FEMA officials should not be concerned about the political wishes of their administration. "We don't have the luxury of the politics, our focus is on people."

Fugate also cautioned against reopening the American economy too quickly, saying people may have to get used to staying inside more to mitigate the danger.

"Until we have a vaccine," he said, "this will not be going back to normal."

For more of Major's conversation with Fugate, download "The Takeout" podcast on Art19, iTunesGooglePlaySpotify and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).  

Producers: Arden Farhi, Jamie Benson, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson
CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin, Julia Boccagno and Grace Segers
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