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.