The White House’s Disregard of Early Warnings

The United States could have saved tens of thousands of lives if social distancing had been adopted just one week earlier in March. But as the virus spread unheeded through communities, the president repeatedly downplayed the threat, assuring Americans that the coronavirus was just like the flu and that it would disappear on its own.

For two months after the Jan. 20, 2020, diagnosis of the U.S.’s first confirmed coronavirus case, President Donald Trump insisted on minimizing the deadly coronavirus as a regular flu and suggested even as late as March that it wasn’t dangerous to go to work while infected.

Records obtained by American Oversight from this time period show that despite the White House’s reassuring posture, federal and state health officials across the country were growing increasingly alarmed about the rapidly spreading pandemic. News reports indicate that George Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control Prevention, called U.S. CDC Director Robert Redfield on Jan. 3 about the virus, and Redfield quickly relayed the information to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. According to the Washington Post, Azar then instructed his chief of staff to share the news with the National Security Council.

The White House’s slow response brought renewed attention to the 2018 decision to dissolve the NSC’s pandemic response team. Anger also spiked after it was reported that senators had dumped stock during the initial days of the outbreak back in January, even as they echoed the White House’s public assurances. Questions remain about what Trump and his administration knew about the threat at the same time their public statements were downplaying the disease. American Oversight is seeking intelligence assessments and reports provided to officials, as well as communications among both federal and state health officials, to learn more about what was going on behind the scenes during those early lost months.

Updates

Wisconsin Documents Offer Window into Early Uncertainty over Covid-19

June 17, 2020
Newly obtained records cast a troubling shadow over the government’s deficient early efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

News Roundup: Trump and Barr Unleash Attack on Protesters — and the Constitution

June 5, 2020
The irony of protests against police brutality being met with violent escalation by law enforcement is perhaps matched only by the authoritarianism of the president and attorney general. 

In the Documents: Coronavirus-Related Records from Nevada and King County, Wash.

June 5, 2020
American Oversight has obtained records from Nevada and Washington state that shed some light on the level of coordination among state and federal agencies.
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