Soon after the coronavirus pandemic broke out in China on Jan. 3, President Trump dismissed it as little more than a harmless flu that would “miraculously” go away.
He contradicted public health specialists who said that it posed a serious threat to other countries, including our own, and suggested that the fears being raised about the spreading virus were a “hoax.”
“Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief,” The Washington Post reported Sunday.
“And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered,” The Post reported.
The lengthy, blistering front-page story, which ran under the headline “70 days of denial, delays and dysfunction,” covered four pages.
The lead of the story said that “By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a war-time president — and the coronavirus the enemy — the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.”
We may never know “how many thousands of deaths, or millions of infections, might have been prevented with a response that was more coherent, urgent and effective,” the newspaper said.
“But even now, there are many indications that the administration’s handling of the crisis had potentially devastating consequences.”
Republican strategists were among some of Mr. Trump’s severest critics.
“Denial is not likely to be a successful strategy for survival,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse wrote in a party analysis that was sent to Republican leaders in Congress, and “widely discussed” at the White House, The Post said.
Notably, “Trump’s message was changing as the report swept through the GOP’s senior ranks. In recent days, Trump has bristled at reminders that he had once claimed the [coronavirus] caseload would soon be “down to zero.”
The Trump administration had learned about the coronavirus on Jan. 3, when Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from his counterpart in China.
Mr. Redfield relayed the message to Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services. Mr. Azar immediately sent a letter to the Chinese, offering to send help, including a team of CDC scientists. But China rebuffed the offer, and thus depriving the U.S. of an opportunity to obtain a sample of the virus, needed to develop diagnostic tests and develop a vaccine against the virus.
In its rebuff to the U.S. request, China “stuck to its costly script in the case of the coronavirus,” The Post reported, saying it had seen “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
Needless to say, “U.S. officials treated the claim with skepticism that intensified when the first case surfaced outside China with a reported infection in Thailand,” The Post reported.
China’s response triggered a rash of meetings in the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department, reportedly focused on “when and whether” to recall U.S. government employees in China.
But by mid-January, U.S. officials “began taking preliminary steps to counter a potential outbreak. By mid-January Robert Kadlec, an Air Force officer and physician who serves as assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, had instructed subordinates to draw up contingency plans for enforcing the Defense Production Act, a measure that enables the government to compel private companies to produce equipment or devices critical to the country’s security,” The Post reported.
“On Jan. 14, Kadlec scribbled a single word in a notebook he carries: ‘Coronavirus!!!.”
Incredibly, despite the rush of responses at lower levels of his administration, Mr. Trump wasn’t thoroughly briefed by health officials about the deadly coronavirus until Jan. 18.
• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.