“Is This True?!”: The February Email That Should’ve Woken up the White House

Tia Dufour, Zuma

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The same day President Donald Trump claimed to have the coronavirus outbreak “very much under control in this country,” his top disaster response official at the Department of Health and Human Services sent an email that should have been the White House’s holy-shit moment.

A New York Times investigation on Saturday reveals how, in late February, the White House’s coronavirus task force had shifted to preparing for the virus’ inevitable spread inside the United States. 

Two days after that meeting, a task force member, HHS official Dr. Robert Kadlec, read an alarming email from a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology about how asymptomatic cases were helping spread the virus:

A 20-year-old Chinese woman had infected five relatives with the virus even though she never displayed any symptoms herself. The implication was grave — apparently healthy people could be unknowingly spreading the virus — and supported the need to move quickly to mitigation.

“Is this true?!” Dr. Kadlec wrote back to the researcher. “If so we have a huge whole on our screening and quarantine effort,” including a typo where he meant hole. Her response was blunt: “People are carrying the virus everywhere.”

Here’s the full email, per the Times:

New York Times

Kadlec and others presented Trump with a plan, “Four Steps to Mitigation.”

We know Trump didn’t follow their advice, instead spending the next days and weeks minimizing the coronavirus by claiming the flu was deadlier and attacking Democrats and the media for their supposed politicization of the crisis. While Washington state was battling the worst of its outbreak, Trump called Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee “a nasty person.” Trump said he wanted governors to be “appreciative” of his aid. 

On March 10, Trump said, “we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” 

Now a month later, the United States has reached a grim milestone, passing Italy on Saturday as the world leader in deaths from the virus. More than 20,000 people have died in the country.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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