The Trump administration lost 70 days in the deadly battle against COVID-19 by downplaying the threat, stalling funds and denying that American citizens were at risk, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first learned of a cluster of novel coronavirus cases in China on Dec. 31 and four days later, on Jan. 3, an official in China confirmed the mysterious respiratory virus in Wuhan. But the Post reports that the Trump administration chose not to act out of fear of scaring markets and hurting the economy. Even when Alex Azar, the secretary of HHS, which oversees the CDC, raised the alarm and suggested that the CDC build a national coronavirus surveillance system, they were shut down because the $100 million plan was too costly. And when Robert Kadlec, an Air Force officer and physician who is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS again raised the alarm on Jan. 14, writing “Cornavirus !!!” in his notebook, he was ignored. Azar, who was battling to get the president’s attention at the height of impeachment hearings, was also blamed for not being more forceful. The Post reports that, in early February, weeks after Chinese officials had locked down 11 million people in Wuhan, two letters to the White House Office of Management and Budget to shift $136 million of department funds to combat the virus should it grip the U.S. were ignored to avoid being “alarmist.”
The investigation also outlined serious pitfalls in the CDC’s efforts to quickly develop and distribute a coronavirus test. At one point, a Food and Drug Administration official tore into CDC lab officials, telling them that lapses in protocol and unsterile conditions were so serious that the FDA would “shut you down” if the CDC were a private company.