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, then President Donald Trump 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, then 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 then 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: Millions Remain Unvaccinated as Delta Spreads, House Expands Investigation into Trump Administration

July 26, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our bi-weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Lagging Vaccine Distribution and Rising Cases

January 5, 2021
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.

In the Documents: White House Pandemic Communications Efforts

November 2, 2020
Since the early days of the pandemic, the White House has often exhibited more apparent concern with managing public relations than with controlling the virus.

Covid-19 Oversight News: FDA Resistance, CDC Guidelines, and Avoidable Tragedy

October 26, 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.

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.

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.

News Roundup: One Firing, Multiple Scandals

May 22, 2020
Trump's firing of the State Department's inspector general has unearthed a series of concerning stories about the conduct of the very person who pressed for the firing — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

American Oversight Sues Administration for Documentation of Detention Center Covid Response

May 21, 2020
American Oversight sued the administration on Thursday for failing to release documents regarding the impact of the coronavirus on vulnerable populations in prisons and immigration detention centers. 

The CDC Has Been Illegally Rejecting Valid FOIA Requests. We’re Suing.

May 15, 2020
American Oversight filed a lawsuit over the agency’s illegal practice of rejecting valid Freedom of Information Act requests — including for documents related to the coronavirus pandemic.

News Roundup: Miracle Drugs and Trump’s Alternate Reality

April 24, 2020
Trump has seemingly failed to learn that no amount of political spin can minimize his administration’s mismanaged pandemic response.

An Update on American Oversight’s Coronavirus Investigation: New Lawsuits and Requests

April 23, 2020
With three lawsuits and more than 400 public records requests filed, American Oversight intends to get to the bottom of what has been happening behind the scenes in the Trump administration’s mismanaged pandemic response.

News Roundup: Whose Stockpile, and Which States?

April 3, 2020
It shouldn’t be surprising that the president, who downplayed the crisis until just a few weeks ago, is once again avoiding taking responsibility.

‘We Are Flying Blind’: Health Officials’ Late February Emails Show Rising Coronavirus Concerns

March 30, 2020
New emails show senior health officials were increasingly alarmed about coronavirus in late February, even as Trump and others were publicly downplaying the threat.

News Roundup: Continuing Our Investigation of Coronavirus Response

March 13, 2020
As we all take steps to mitigate the severity of the outbreak, American Oversight is continuing to investigate the Trump administration’s troublingly inadequate response to the crisis.

News Roundup: Rising Coronavirus Fears and Sinking Public Trust

March 6, 2020
The uncertainty and fear surrounding the coronavirus have laid bare the deadly consequences of President Donald Trump’s demand for obsequious loyalty and a refusal to take responsibility for mistakes.
Show all updates

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