From the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, things were bungled. In an extensive fact-check, the Washington Post walked through the timeline from the early days of the Chinese outbreak to President Donald Trump’s efforts in the United States today.
The first case of COVID-19 surfaced in China in mid-November 2019 when doctors still believed it was an aggressive form of pneumonia. The spread from person to person revealed it was something more. The Post report explained that it was that point that the Chinese government should have reached out to the World Health Organization. That didn’t happen until over a month later on December 31, 2019.
Scientists rushed to develop a test, but the United States wanted to craft their own test.
“That in and of itself didn’t have to be a problem,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a fellow at the Center for Global Development.
But it was.
The University of Washington Virology Lab similarly began working on its own test. January 19 was the first case of a coronavirus person in the United States, in Washington state. He had flown in from China.
Just three days later, Trump was asked about whether he was worried about a pandemic in a CNBC interview.
“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China,” Trump said. “And we have it under control. It’s, uh, gonna be just fine.”
One person then became five people. The Center for Disease Control set a standard that only people who had been to China or came in contact with someone who was in China were allowed to be tested. But people who hadn’t come in contact with anyone from China began getting sick.
January 31, the day after the WHO declared a global emergency, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in the United States. Flights from China into the United States were blocked, but the virus had already spread around the world. While Trump quickly put in a travel ban for Muslim countries when he entered office, somehow the ban on China was sufficient for the COVID-19 spread.
“But generally, officials continued to downplay the threat of the virus,” said Post reporter Meg Kelly.
By the first week of February, the Food and Drug Administration enforced strict rules on labs developing coronavirus tests. For an administration that has bragged about deregulation, when it came to coronavirus test kits, only a few states and labs were given permission to test and only the CDC could make and distribute the tests.
On Feb 7, just 19 days after the first case in the U.S., the CDC sent 90 test kits to those labs. Those at the University Washington Virology Lab were barred from using their test due to FDA regulations, even though the tests were working.
“That’s when the exact thing that public health officials were afraid of, happened,” Kelly explained. “There were problems with CDC’s tests.”
Stanford professor of law and medicine, Michelle Mello explained the CDC put all of their eggs in one basket.
“The basket was really important. And it broke,” she said. “We had trouble fixing it.”
By mid-February Trump was still playing down the crisis, saying that there were just ten infections in the United States. The problem is that there was no testing, so it was unknown just how many people really had it.
The CDC and the FDA knew their tests didn’t work, but they still refused to loosen restrictions or even work with other labs or universities on their tests. While they were refusing to work with other labs they were trying to reassure Americans that everything was fine and they were fixing the problem.
Local officials couldn’t figure out where these mythical tests were. Some still can’t. If they were sent out to states from the CDC, why couldn’t anyone get ahold of a test?
In Washington state, the virus spread quickly in a person to person transmission. Still, the CDC guidelines said that the only people that could be tested was if the person went to China or came in contact with someone who did.
Dr. Elisabeth Poorman, a University of Washington physician, said that epidemiologists were reporting hundreds of community-spread transmissions in her state, but doctors’ hands were tied.
“For physicians all over the world it feels like we see — we’re like at the beginning of a horror movie and we’re trying to tell people what’s coming,” she said.
That’s when the Trump administration started scrambling. Some officials testifying on Capitol Hill had one comment while the president said another. By the end of February, the stock markets and Americans began panicking. But even on Feb. 25, Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that they have “contained” it. The same day, Trump said it was “very well under control.” Meanwhile, the CDC was saying the opposite.
Feb. 29, the FDA finally loosened its restrictions on the testing kits. By the time the University of Washington labs were given permission to use their kits, the virus had taken over Seattle.
Primary care physicians were required to get state authorization to test those suspected of having the virus. County health departments were in the same boat, desperately clamoring for test kits.
March 11, Trump addressed the nation, saying that the test kits were coming, over a month after the first 90 tests were sent out by the CDC. Once the tests began, the cases went from 11 to 100,000 in weeks.
The U.S. cases were creeping up and up along with China, which prompted their government to shut down reporting on the numbers. They built pop-up hospitals to deal with the crisis and lockdown cities. When questions surfaced, the country kicked American reporters out of the country.
As March comes to a close, the Trump administration is desperately trying to change the past, denying accounts and outright lying about previous statements. At the same time, the president is attacking anyone who questions his leadership or attacks his slow response. When asked about his statements, he attacks the reporters, calling them “nasty” or tells them to “be nice.”
This weekend, New York was building temporary hospitals and begging for equipment. The president accused doctors and nurses of hoarding what they have, lying about it or selling it “out the back door.”
See a full video about the timeline from the Washington Post below: