Trump exposed over virus inaction
Evidence is mounting that the Trump administration spent vital months floundering and ignoring expert advice as the coronavirus spread through the United States.
Emails from January show health experts warned US officials the country was headed towards a catastrophe, but the administration delayed implementing any kind of restrictions until mid-March.
The country's top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has agreed the dire situation could have been lessened if shutdowns had happened earlier, but he said health officials had to contend with "push back" from the Government.
US President Donald Trump's Government also threw out a government guidebook on how to fight pandemics, which included crucial early-stage questions regarding securing personal protective equipment and how to contain the spread of a potentially deadly virus.
The US, the world's superpower, has now become the global epicentre of the pandemic and a dangerous place to be a citizen.
More than 22,000 people have been killed by coronavirus in the country, and more than half a million have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Over the past few days, unsettling footage has shown prisoners burying the dead in unmarked mass graves on Hart Island in the Bronx.
As the catastrophe continues to ravage the country, people are beginning to wonder how the US got it so wrong.
Mr Trump has repeatedly reflected on the strength of his own decision to ban flights from China in January, a move that was criticised at the time by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Last week, Mr Trump threatened to withdraw WHO funding in a White House press briefing, calling them "China-centric".
The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2020
However, evidence is mounting that public health officials called for Mr Trump to implement measures to limit the deadliness of the coronavirus within the United States. And while much of this advice was given in January and February, it wasn't implemented until mid-March.
"Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different, but there was a lot of push back about shutting things down back then," Dr Fauci said in an interview with CNN.
He flagged in the interview that restrictions may still be eased as early as "next month".
TRACING THE RESPONSE
An email sent in January to government and university public health experts warned them of the projected size of the outbreak, saying the potential of the coronavirus already "seemed hard to believe".
The warnings came from Dr Carter Mecher, a senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs on January 28.
"Any way you cut it, this is going to be bad," he wrote. He also said schools, colleges and universities needed to be shut down. This was early in the outbreak, one week after the first coronavirus case had been identified in the US.
In January, the National Security Council office responsible for tracking pandemics received intelligence that the virus was likely to spread in the US. It began to raise options including closing down cities and keeping people at home, according to the New York Times.
It would be another six weeks before the Government implemented any kind of social distancing measures in the US.
On January 29, Peter Navarro, Mr Trump's trade adviser, told the President in a memo about the potential of half a million deaths from the virus. He also told the President the country faced economic losses in the trillions.
The next day, on January 30, Alex Azar, health and human services secretary, also warned Mr Trump for the second time about the possibility of a the epidemic becoming a pandemic. The Times claimed that during the phone call the President, who was flying on Air Force One, told Mr Azar he was being alarmist.
In February, Mr Azar tried to establish a five-city surveillance system to monitor the spread of the virus and project possible hot spots. But the vital project was delayed.
This delay, along with America's failed attempt to produce its own coronavirus test in the early stages of the outbreak, hampered officials' ability to have any kind of insight into what was happening in the US.
In the third week of February, public health officials recommended to Mr Trump that new steps should be implemented across the country to stop the spread of the virus. This included urging people to work from home and limiting social gatherings.
An email from Dr Mecher in late February discussed with his colleagues "targeted layered containment" and "non-pharmaceutical interventions, which meant closing schools and businesses. In the email he says the US has a "narrow window" and is flying blind". He warned Italy "missed" their window.
None of these measures were implemented in February.
On March 16, Mr Trump urged all Americans to begin practising social distancing.
He said people should not gather in groups of more than 10 and urged everyone to stay at home where possible.
"We'd much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it," Mr Trump said at a White House news conference.
"Therefore, my administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts."
While the White House had scrambled to cobble together its response to the pandemic, Politico reported that a 69-page guide was put together in 2016 to assist governments in the event of a pandemic.
The National Security Council playbook, put together by the Obama administration, has several questions to help governments through biological threats. These include: "Is there sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are providing medical care?" A follow-up question asked if there were "triggers to signal exhaustion" of those supplies.
The document contains hundreds of detailed plans on how to respond to an unfolding pandemic-style catastrophe.
An official dismissed the importance of the document, telling Politico the Government was aware of it and it had been "superseded" by new policies.
White House staffers have defended the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It's been argued the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention made the right decision rejecting the WHO's testing kits despite the US producing an inferior product that recorded inaccurate results. Dr Fauci told CNN in March that it was standard practice for the US to produce its own tests. He admitted in hindsight it may have been a misstep.
Others have criticised the Chinese Government for allegedly misleading other governments about extent of the outbreak in their own country, saying this made it difficult for other countries like the US to properly respond.
The New York Times also reported that Mr Trump had people around him who didn't communicate the urgency of the pandemic, and the President acted accordingly until he received the correct information.
At the time of publishing, more than 555,300 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the US, and more than 22,000 people have been killed.
Originally published as Trump exposed over virus inaction