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

Covid-19 Oversight News: Politicization at the FDA and CDC, and the Oversight Commission’s Delayed September Report

October 19, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

CDC Emails from Spring Show Growing Gap Between Scientists and White House

October 7, 2020
The emails include the sharing of WHO reports as well as a discussion about how to promote the agency’s spring guidance on wearing masks.

The Latest in American Oversight’s Covid-19 Investigations

August 20, 2020
The suspension of asylum, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and early guidance on the coronavirus — read the latest on what we've uncovered.
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