The Trump Administration’s Response to Coronavirus

With fear about the novel coronavirus spreading as fast as the disease itself, mistrust of the Trump administration’s ability to handle a pandemic is mounting. American Oversight is investigating the government’s response to the crisis, from its misleading public statements to the delays in the availability of testing kits.

Since news broke in January 2020 of the United States’ first confirmed case of Covid-19, the disease caused by the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the federal government’s response has been defined by inadequate resources, confusing communications and blatant misinformation. President Donald Trump’s own demonstrably false statements, the worrying scarcity of testing kits, and the administration’s questionable control of official communications have only heightened the fear that the virus is spreading through communities undetected.

In late February, as the number of cases continued to rise, the Department of Health and Human Services came under fire for having sent multiple workers without proper training or protective gear to Wuhan, China, the center of the coronavirus outbreak. The whistleblower who filed the complaint also alleged that she had been retaliated against for raising concerns about those workers’ safety. Meanwhile, a delay in available testing had been exacerbated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to forgo World Health Organization tests and develop its own test, which turned out to be faulty. And public health officials and experts warned that the relatively low number of tests performed likely shielded the virus’s far larger reach.

The Trump administration’s public-facing communications have done little to alleviate concern. On Feb. 28, 2020, Rep. John Garamendi told reporters that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was directed to “stand down” and to cancel five Sunday morning talk show appearances. That same day, CNN reported that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had sent a government-wide email saying that all coronavirus-related communications must go through Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, who had just taken control over the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.

Following Pence’s appointment to lead the coronavirus response, the Washington Post reported that “the White House has been obsessed with a ‘communications problem,’” to the irritation of senior health officials focused on a measured response to the coronavirus. On March 2, public reporting indicated that the CDC changed a page on its website to remove the total number of persons tested for Covid-19, with no indication as to the reason for this change. The president’s own statements — including, downplaying Covid-19 as a regular flu, blaming the Obama administration, and suggesting that going to work while infected was safe — also reflected what many saw as a preoccupation with his own political standing over concerns about public health.

American Oversight is investigating whether mismanagement in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus has put lives at risk, and whether the White House’s attempted control of information has served the president’s own political interests over the health of the public.

OUR REQUESTS

  • All final directives, orders, decisions or guidance from Trump or Pence regarding public statements, public appearances, website changes or communications about Covid-19;
  • All final directives or guidance from HHS leadership regarding public statements or communications regarding Covid-19;
  • Final talking points or background materials for congressional briefings or press engagements, as well as daily briefings or situation reports prepared for leadership at agencies across the federal government;
  • Any directives for Anthony Fauci of the NIAID to cancel media appearances;
  • The email Mulvaney sent directing coronavirus communications to go through Pence’s office;
  • Any email communications about changes to the CDC webpage regarding coronavirus testing;
  • Communications between health officials in King County, Washington, or the Washington State Department of Health and the White House, HHS, or the CDC;

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March 5, 2020

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March 5, 2020

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March 5, 2020

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FOIA Request
February 28, 2020

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FOIA Request
March 11, 2019

Public Records Request to Washington State Health Department Seeking Communications with the White House, CDC, or HHS

Washington State Department of Health
FOIA Request
March 11, 2019

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