By mid-Jan, Robert Kadlec, a USAF officer/physician who also works as asst sec for preparedness/response @ HHS, instructed staff to draw up contingency plans to enforce the Defense Production Act. Aides were torn whether to implement the act, & nothing happened for many weeks.
01/18: Trump gets briefed by health officials while spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago. He took a call from HHS Sec. Azar, but before the health secretary could brief him, Trump cut him off & criticized Azar for his handling of an aborted fed ban on vaping products.

Azar told several associates that the president believed he was an “alarmist” and Azar struggled to get Trump’s attention to focus on the issue, even asking one confidant for advice.

01/21: A Seattle man who had recently traveled to Wuhan tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first known infection on U.S. soil.

01/23: Chinese authorities shut down the entire city of Wuhan, turning the teeming metropolis into a ghost city

01/24: A lab in TX requests viral samples from a Wuhan lab. Wuhan agrees, but Chinese officials intervene & block lab transfers. Trump still praises President Xi, ignores warnings from intel/health officials that China is concealing the scale & delaying cooperation on key fronts.
01/08: CDC issues first public alert about coronavirus

01/17: CDC monitors airports in LA, SF & NY, with large # of travelers from China

Trump was out of the country for this critical stretch, taking part in the annual global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Nat’l Sec adviser Robert O’Brien was w/ Trump in Davos. He took a call from HHS saying it was “mayhem” @ the WH. HHS urged O’Brien to have NSC assert control over a matter w/implications for air travel/immigration/State Dept/Pentagon. O’Brien grasped the urgency. Trump did not.
01/22: Trump receives first question about the coronavirus in an interview while in Davos. Asked whether he was worried about a pandemic, Trump said, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. . . . It’s going to be just fine.”
The NSC’s control of the response marked a chance to reorient strategy for containment where possible & procure resources, such as protective masks & ventilators. Instead of mobilizing, officials seemed more preoccupied w/ logistical problems like evacuating Americans from China.
01/29: Coronavirus task force announced: Matt Pottinger (Deputy Nat’l Sec Adviser), Mick Mulvaney, Azar, Fauci + 9 others. They focus on keeping infected people in China from traveling to US, while evacuating 1000s of US citizens. The meetings did not focus on testing/supplies.
01/30: China locks down Hubei province (Wuhan)

01/31: Azar announces restrictions barring non-US citizens who’d been in China during the preceding 2 weeks from US entry

300K people came into the US from China in Jan. By now, the virus was spreading uncontrollably

02/01: Pottinger proposes idea of a travel ban of travelers from Italy & other European nations that emerge as major nodes of the outbreak. The proposal was endorsed by healthcare officials, incld. Fauci, who argued that it was critical to close off any path the virus might take.
The plan was resisted by Steven Mnuchin & others worried about the impact on the economy. This split the administration, pitting those who prioritized public health against those determined to avoid any disruption in an election year to the run of expansion & employment growth.
Those backing the economy prevailed with the president. And it was more than a month before the administration issued a belated and confusing ban on flights into the United States from Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people crossed the Atlantic during that interval.

While fights over air travel played out in the WH, health officials began to panic over a shortage of critical med equipment incld. protective masks for doctors/nurses, as well as a rapidly shrinking pool of money needed to pay for such things.

Early February: the admin was draining a $105M congressional fund to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. The threat to the US still seemed distant to the public. But to health officials charged w/ stockpiling supplies for worst-case-scenarios, disaster appeared inevitable.
The nat’l stockpile of N95 protective masks, gowns, gloves & other supplies was already inadequate after years of underfunding. The prospects for replenishing that store were suddenly threatened by the unfolding crisis in China, which disrupted offshore supply chains.

Most manufacturing for that equipment had long since migrated to China, where factories were now shuttered b/c workers were ordered to stay home. At this time, China was buying up masks & other gear for its own coronavirus outbreak, driving up costs & monopolizing supplies.
Late Jan/Early Feb: HHS sends 2 letters to the WH Office of Mgmt & Budget asking to use its authority to shift $136M of funds to combat the virus. WH budget hawks argued that appropriating too much money at once when there were only a few US cases would be viewed as alarmist.
Joe Grogan, head of the Domestic Policy Council, clashed with health officials over preparedness. He mistrusted how the money would be used and questioned how health officials had used previous preparedness funds.

Alex Azar of HHS then spoke to Russell Vought, the acting director of the WH Office of Mgmt & Budget, during Trump’s State of the Union speech on Feb. 4. Vought seemed amenable, and told Azar to submit a proposal. Azar submitted a $4B proposal the very next day.

02/05: Azar arrives at the WH for a tense meeting in the Situation Room that erupted in a shouting match, according to three people. The $4B was a sum that OMB officials & others at the WH greeted as an outrage.

A deputy in the budget office accuses Azar of preemptively lobbying Congress for a sum the WH had no interest in granting. Azar defended the need for an emergency infusion. WH officials relented to a degree weeks later as the surge in the US began to materialize.

The Office of Mgmt & Budget team whittled Azar’s demands down to $2.5B, money that would be available only in the current fiscal year. Congress ignored that figure & approved an $8B supplemental bill that Trump signed into law on March 7.

The delays meant that the US missed a narrow window to stockpile ventilators, masks & other protective gear before the admin was bidding against many other desperate nations, and state officials fed up with federal failures began scouring for supplies themselves.

In late March, the admin ordered 10K ventilators - far short of what public health officials & governors said was needed. And many will not arrive until the summer or fall, when models expect the pandemic to be receding.

The first setback w/ testing came when China refused to share samples, depriving researchers of supplies to bombard w/ drugs & therapies for ways to defeat it. But even when samples had been procured, the US effort was hampered by systemic problems & institutional hubris.
Among the costliest errors was a misplaced assessment by top health officials that the outbreak would be limited in scale inside the US — as had been the case with every other infection for decades — and that the CDC could be trusted on its own to develop a diagnostic test.
But the CDC was not built to mass-produce tests. The agency fostered an institutional arrogance, that even in the face of a potential crisis there was no pressing need to involve private labs, academic institutions, hospitals & global health orgs also capable of developing tests.
Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, sought authority in early Feb to begin calling private diagnostic & pharma companies to enlist their help. But when FDA officials consulted leaders at HHS, Hahn, who had led the agency for about two months, was told to stand down.

Azar of HHS was committed to a plan that would keep his agency at the center of the response effort: securing a test from the CDC & then building a nat’l surveillance system by relying on an existing network of labs used to track the ordinary flu.

In task force meetings, Azar pushed for $100M to fund the plan, but was shot down because of cost. Yet the scale of the epidemic, and the need for mass testing far beyond the capabilities of the flu network, would have overwhelmed Azar’s plan no matter what.

The CDC failed its basic assignment to create a working test & the task force rejected Azar’s plan.

02/06: The WHO reports shipping of 250K test kits to labs around the world, as the CDC begins distributing 90 kits to a smattering of state-run health labs.

Almost immediately, the facilities encounter problems. The results are inconclusive in trial runs at more than half the labs, & therefore can’t be relied upon to diagnose actual patients. The CDC instructs labs to send tests to its Atlanta HQ, further delaying results by days.
The scarcity of tests led officials to impose constraints on when/how to use them, delaying surveillance testing. Guidelines were so restrictive that states were discouraged from testing patients w/ symptoms unless they traveled to China or were in contact w/ a confirmed case.
But by that point, the pathogen had almost certainly spread more broadly into the general population and the limits left top officials largely blind to the true dimensions of the outbreak.

In a meeting in the Situation Room in mid-February, Fauci and Redfield told WH officials that there was no evidence yet of person-to-person transmission in the US. In hindsight, it appears almost certain that the virus was taking hold in communities at that point.

02/10: Trump holds a political rally in NH, attended by thousands, where he declares that, “by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Trump’s subordinates were growing increasingly alarmed, as he continues to exhibit little concern.
The New Hampshire rally was one of eight that Trump held after he had been told by Azar about the coronavirus, a period when he also went to his golf courses six times.

Late Feb: US officials discover that the CDC lab is failing to meet basic quality-control standards.

02/27: On a call w/ health officials, an FDA official yells @ the CDC for repeated lapses, & if it were subjected to the same scrutiny as a private lab, “I would shut you down.”
02/29: A Washington state man becomes the first American to die of a coronavirus infection. That same day, the FDA releases guidance, signaling that private labs were now free to proceed in developing their own diagnostics, resulting in another four-week stretch being squandered.
03/06: Trump tours CDC facilities wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat. He boasts that the tests were nearly perfect & that “anybody who wants a test will get a test,” a promise that nearly a month later remains unmet.

Trump professes to have a keen medical mind. “I like this stuff. I really get it. People here are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’” In reality, many of the failures were either a result of/exacerbated by, Trump
For weeks, Trump barely utters a word about the crisis that didn’t downplay its severity or propagate false information. He dismissed the warnings of intel officials & top public health officials in his campaign own administration.

He voiced far more authentic concern about the trajectory of the stock market than the spread of the virus in the US, railing at the chairman of the Fed Reserve & others with an intensity that he never seemed to exhibit about the possible human toll of the outbreak.

03/09: As state after state imposed new restrictions on citizens’ daily lives to protect them, Trump second-guessed the lockdowns. “The common flu kills tens of thousands each year and “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” he tweeted.

03/10: Trump pledges that the virus would “go away. Just stay calm.”

03/11: Trump orders the halt to incoming travel from Europe (excl. Britain) that his deputy nat’l sec adviser had been advocating for weeks.

Trump botches the Oval Office announcement so badly that officials spend days to correct erroneous statements that triggered a stampede by U.S. citizens overseas to get home.

“There was some coming to grips w/ the problem & the true nature of it. The 13th of March is when I saw him really turn the corner. It took a while to realize you’re at war. That’s when he took decisive action that set in motion some real payoffs.” - @LindseyGrahamSC
Trump spent weeks shuffling responsibility for leading his admin response to the crisis, putting Azar in charge of the task force at first, relying on Pottinger, the deputy nat’l security adviser, for brief periods, before finally putting Pence in the role toward the end of Feb.
Others emerged to help right the US’ course. But even as Fauci, Azar & others sought to assert themselves, Trump was turning to others w/ no credentials, experience or discernible insight in navigating a pandemic. Foremost among them was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A team reporting to Kushner took space in the HHS building to pursue a series of inchoate initiatives. One plan involved having Google create a website to direct those w/ symptoms to testing facilities that were supposed to spring up, but never materialized.

Another idea was advanced by Oracle chairman Larry Ellison to use software to monitor the unproven use of anti-malaria drugs against the coronavirus pathogen. So far, the plans have failed to come close to delivering on the promises made when they were touted in WH briefings.
The Kushner initiatives have interrupted the work of those under immense pressure to manage the response. Current & former officials say that Fauci & others have repeatedly had to divert their attentions from core operations to contend with ill-conceived requests from the WH.
Azar - who once ran the response - has since been sidelined, with his agency disempowered in decision-making and his performance pilloried by a range of White House officials, including Kushner.

“Fauci is trying to roll out the most ambitious clinical trial ever...”, said a fmr sr admin official in frequent touch w/ fmr colleagues. Yet the nation’s top health officials “are getting calls from the WH or Jared’s team asking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do this w/ Oracle?’”
If the virus has exposed the country’s misplaced confidence in its ability to handle a crisis, it also has cast harsh light on the limits of Trump’s approach to the presidency — his disdain for facts, science and experience.

After months of dismissing the severity of the virus & resisting calls for measures to contain it, Trump brands himself a wartime president.

03/31: “It’s absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days. It’s a matter of life & death.”
You can follow @andrewkimmel.
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