As the virus continues to spread across the United States, the nation is reeling, with schools closed, sporting and cultural events shut down, and an economy in danger of lapsing into recession.
An examination of how the Trump administration responded to the coronavirus outbreak that was first documented in December reveals a story of missed opportunities, mismanagement and a president who resisted the advice of experts urging a more aggressive response. All the while, Trump made a series of upbeat claims, some of which were flatly false, including that the number of cases was declining in the U.S. and that “anybody who needs a test gets a test.”
Dec. 31, 2019
The Associated Press becomes one of the first English language news accounts to report that China is investigating an “outbreak of respiratory illness in the central city of Wuhan.”
Jan. 6, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns Americans to take precautions if traveling to China.
The CDC’s Emergency Operations Center activates a COVID-19 Incident Management System, used to direct operations, deliver resources and share information.
The CDC issues an alert about the coronavirus, saying it is “closely monitoring” the disease and that there are “no known U.S. cases.”
The World Health Organization issues a statement about the first COVID-19 case outside of China, saying, “There is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
The CDC holds its first COVID-19 telebriefing. Officials say that the agency will start screening passengers on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan. However, they said that they are not aware of measures regarding exit screening in Wuhan.
While at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Donald Trump is asked whether he has a plan to contain the coronavirus in the U.S. Trump responds by saying that the U.S. does have a plan and that he thinks it’s “going to be handled very well.” He also said that he thinks China is in “very good shape.”
Trump announces the creation of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force to lead the “United States government response to the novel 2019 coronavirus and with keeping him apprised of developments.” The White House said the task force was being led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
The New York City Fire Department instructs 911 dispatchers on special procedures to follow if a caller presents coronavirus-like symptoms, including fever and cough.
President Trump discusses the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement at Dana Incorporated in Warren, Mich.
“Now we’re working very strongly with China on the coronavirus — that’s a new thing that a lot of people are talking about. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as some people think it could be.”
The Trump administration suspends entry into the United States by foreign nationals who traveled to China within the last 14 days (excluding Hong Kong and Macau). This does not apply to lawful U.S. residents and family members/ spouses of U.S. residents or citizens.
President Trump interview on Fox News with Sean Hannity
“Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. … We’ve offered China help, but we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus.”
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, two former senior U.S. officials call on the Trump administration to launch broader surveillance testing to find infected patients and isolate them, and urge the FDA to allow private labs to develop diagnostic tests.
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announces a decision to direct all flights from the United States carrying people who recently traveled to China to arrive at certain United States airports with enhanced screening procedures.
The first U.S. citizen diagnosed with the coronavirus dies in Wuhan, China, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing says.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces a U.S. pledge of $100 million to help China and other countries combat the coronavirus. The pledge is also mentioned in an HHS press briefing with members of the coronavirus task force.
The CDC issues an order requiring airlines to provide information about any passenger coming from China within 14 days of their entry into the U.S.
The White House asks Congress for $1.25 billion in new funding to help with coronavirus response. The administration also asked to move $535 million more from an Ebola preparedness account.
At a news conference in India, Trump says that the coronavirus is “well under control” and that there are “very few people with it.”
That day, his top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, tells CNBC that the U.S. has “contained” the coronavirus and that the outbreak is unlikely to be an “economic tragedy.”
In Washington, after a closed-door briefing with health officials. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he was “disappointed” that the administration was not doing more to adequately prepare for a potential epidemic, including stockpiling medical devices and protective equipment.
In a CDC telebriefing, the agency says they expect community spread of the coronavirus. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Trump announces that Vice President Mike Pence will head the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak.
White house news conference
“We have, through some very good early decisions — decisions that were actually ridiculed at the beginning — we closed up our borders to flights coming in from certain areas, areas that were hit by the coronavirus and hit pretty hard. … The infection seems to have gone down over the last two days.”
The Washington Post reports that a whistleblower complaint claimed that the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen workers without proper training or protective gear to assist with Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China. This account was later confirmed to NBC News by the whistleblower’s lawyer.
Trump political rally in North Charleston, S.C.
“The Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well being of all Americans. Now you see it with the coronavirus.”
First U.S. death related to the coronavirus is announced after an individual in Washington state dies from the illness.
The FDA issues a new policy allowing for certain labs to develop and begin using COVID-19 tests before the agency completes its review of Emergency Use Authorization requests. According to the FDA, the move is aimed at expanding testing capacity in the U.S.
White House news conference on the coronavirus
“We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus. They are the most aggressive taken by any country. And we’re the No. 1 travel destination anywhere in the world, yet we have far fewer cases of the disease than even countries with much less travel or a much smaller population.”
Trump and members of the coronavirus task force meet with pharmaceutical companies to discuss speeding up the development of a vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus.
Trump claims some of the companies said that a vaccine would be ready in three to four months. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, later clarified that a year to a year and a half would be a more accurate timetable.
NBC News reports that FEMA is planning for the possibility that Trump could make an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act.
March 3: In an off-camera briefing, Pence says the administration will issue new guidance to the CDC that will “make clear that any American can be tested, no restrictions, subject to doctor’s orders.”
Trump meets with airline executives on the coronavirus.
“It’s affecting the airline business, as it would. And a lot of people are staying in our country, and they’re shopping and using our hotels in this country. So, from that standpoint, I think, probably, there’s a positive impact.”
Trump travels to CDC headquarters in Atlanta and at one point says he “wouldn’t generally be inclined” to cancel travel and social gatherings.
The Trump administration grants tariff relief for masks and other medical items imported from China.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin holds a call with the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets to discuss the economic impact of COVID-19.
President Trump meets with Republican lawmakers on the coronavirus.
“And when people need a test, they can get a test. When the professionals need a test, when they need tests for people, they can get the test. It’s gone really well.”
Trump announces that the U.S. is banning foreign travelers from 26 countries in Europe for 30 days. The ban is set to go into effect March 13. The White House also clarified that the ban covers people and not goods. The president also announces that the Small Business Administration will provide low-interest loans to small businesses affected by disruptions caused by the virus.
The State Department issues a Global Level 3 Health Advisory calling on U.S. citizens to reconsider traveling abroad.
The World Health Organization announces that COVID-19 can now be characterized as a pandemic.
Reuters reports that the White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified. Sources told the news outlet that “dozens of classified discussions” about the coronavirus have taken place since mid-January and that “some very critical people who did not have security clearances” had been left out.
President Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office.
“Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments — without interest or penalties — for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted. This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy. Finally, I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully, they will consider this very strongly. We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus. We made a lifesaving move with early action on China.”
At a House hearing about coronavirus test kits, Fauci admits the U.S. is not where it needs to be in terms of testing capabilities.
“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” he said. “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”
In a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Trump says travel restrictions within the United States are a possibility. He pointed to New Rochelle as an example, saying that it’s a “hotspot” and that the containment zone “is not enforced.”
When asked about reports of physicians being unable to test potential coronavirus patients, Trump said there were a “million tests out now” and that there will be 4 million in the following days. “If you go to the right agency, if you go to the right area, you get the test,” he said.
In a televised address, Trump declares a national emergency. He also said there are discussions to make drive-through tests available across “critical locations.”
The Bureau of Prisons announces that social visits at 122 of its prisons will be suspended for 30 days.
The FDA issues enforcement discretion to the New York State Department of Health for certain labs to begin COVID-19 testing.
DHS issues a notice on new arrival restrictions for people returning from certain European countries, Iran and China. The new guidelines require that passengers travel through 13 select airports as well as undergo “enhanced entry screening.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announces that Democrats have reached an agreement with the administration to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, an emergency response package that addresses economic, food and health concerns for those affected by the coronavirus. This comes after Mnuchin and Pelosi had several conversations about a coronavirus legislative package amid Trump’s call for Congress to take legislative action.
The Department of Defense announces a domestic travel ban on DOD civilians, service members and their families.
Trump news conference on the pandemic
“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion of very importantly — very important and a large amount of money for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease.”
White House physician Sean P. Conley announces that Trump has tested negative for the coronavirus. The announcement comes in light of reports that the president had been in contact with multiple people at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida who had tested positive for the virus.
The White House announces that the European travel ban will be expanded to include the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning midnight on March 16.
The CDC issues guidance recommending that gatherings of 50 or more people should be canceled for the next eight weeks.
The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reports that Trump had offered funds to the German firm CureVac for a vaccine exclusively for the U.S.
The Peace Corps announces it will temporarily suspend all global operations and begin evacuating volunteers.