Trump Administration’s Mishandling of the Coronavirus Response

The U.S. now has more confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 than any other country in the world, and, just as experts expected, the death toll reached 50,000 before the end of April. The U.S. and South Korea confirmed their first cases of COVID-19 on the same day, January 20, 2020. Thanks in part to swift action, like widespread testing and contact tracing, South Korea was able to successfully flatten the curve, reporting just 13 new cases on April 20, 2020. Yet in the U.S., the virus is still ravaging the country.

It took an astounding and unacceptable 70 days from the day the U.S. confirmed its first case of COVID-19 for Trump to take the threat seriously. Even then, his actions and words have undermined the seriousness of the pandemic. And amidst the chaos, the administration has continued to buck oversight and push through other agenda items, like limiting immigration.

Below is a timeline of the Trump Administration’s catastrophic failure at every turn to protect our citizens:

2017: The Department of Homeland Security shuts down the modeling of flu pandemics.

May 2018: The Administration disbands the White House pandemic response team.

September 2018: The Administration received detailed plans for a new machine designed to make 1.5 million N95 respirator masks a day in the event of a pandemic. They fail to fund or build the machine.

January – August 2019: The Administration runs a pandemic wargame called “Crimson Contagion,” which modeled the outbreak of an uncontrolled flu pandemic originating from China.

July 2019: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency left her post, and the Administration decided to eliminate the role.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns of a pandemic risk, modeling an influenza outbreak that would lead to a shortage of medical supplies and overwhelm our healthcare system.

August 2019: The contract with the company that maintained the national stockpile of ventilators expires, later resulting in the distribution of broken ventilators once the pandemic had taken hold.

September 2019: The Administration defunds the PREDICT project, which was a $200 million USAID program for detecting virus outbreaks overseas. 

October 2019: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issues a draft report on the results of the Crimson Contagion model, warning the U.S. is not prepared to respond to a severe influenza pandemic.

November 2019: U.S. intelligence officials begin warning of a virus sweeping through the Wuhan region of China.

December 31, 2019: The CDC learns there is an outbreak of “acute respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus” in mainland China.

January 3, 2020: The Trump Administration receives its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

January 2020 – February 2020: According to news reports, intelligence agencies began to issues warnings about the danger of the coronavirus, noting that Chinese officials were minimizing the severity of the outbreak. These reports allegedly increased towards the end of January into early February.

January 6, 2020: CDC Director Robert Redfield sends a letter to Chinese officials offering to send help, including a team of CDC scientists, but the Chinese declined the offer.

January 8, 2020: The CDC issues its first public warning regarding the outbreak in China, noting people should take precautions when traveling to the Wuhan region.

January 9, 2020: Trump holds a campaign rally in Ohio.

January 14, 2020: Trump holds a campaign rally in Wisconsin.

Mid-January, 2020: According to news reports, Assistant HHS Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec instructed his subordinates to draw up plans for enforcing the Defense Production Act in order to ensure there would be enough equipment and devices necessary to combat an outbreak.

Cable traffic from the State Department also reveals that U.S. diplomats in Wuhan were being brought home on chartered planes.

January 17, 2020: The CDC begins to monitor major airports across the country for passengers arriving from China.

January 18, 2020: HHS Secretary Alexander Azar finally connects to the President by phone to discuss his concerns, yet Trump instead asks Azar for an update on weakening federal position on restricting flavors.

Trump goes golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

January 19, 2020: Trump is again spotted golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

January 21, 2020: The U.S. confirms the first case of COVID-19 in Washington state.

January 22, 2020: While attending the Davos conference in Switzerland, Trump finally makes his first public comment about the coronavirus outbreak, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

January 23, 2020: Chinese officials shut down Wuhan in an attempt to curb further spread.

January 24, 2020: Trump praises China’s handling of the coronavirus: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

January 27, 2020: White House aides meet with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to express their concerns. Joe Grogan, White House Domestic Policy Counsel, argues that if the President fails to take the outbreak seriously, it could cost him re-election.

January 28, 2020: Dr. Carter Mecher, a senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs writes in an email group to public health experts that, “[a]ny way you cut it, this is going to be bad.”

Trump holds a campaign rally in New Jersey.

January 29, 2020: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro drafted a memo titled “Impose Travel Ban on China?” and warned of 500,000 or more American deaths.

The White House announces the creation of a coronavirus task force to be lead by Secretary Azar and coordinator through the National Security Council. Notably, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is not originally included in the task force.

Secretary Azar allegedly tells Trump that the epidemic was under control, and that more than a million tests would be available within weeks.

January 30, 2020: The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global health emergency. According to news reports, Secretary Azar warned Trump that China was not being fully transparent about the outbreak, yet Trump proclaims that, “[w]e think it’s going to have a very good ending for it. So that I can assure you.”

Trump holds a campaign rally in Iowa.

January 31, 2020: Trump announces travel restrictions from China, but three major airlines had already announced they would be halting flights to and from China. Further, the travel restrictions did not apply to citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. and their spouses, children, and other family members.

As of April 4, 2020, 279 flights from China have arrived to the U.S. since the restrictions were in place, and nearly 40,000 people have entered to the U.S., with uneven screening procedures in place.

Early February 2020: More White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, call for a more forceful response. Pottinger proposes expanding the travel ban to countries including Italy, but the plan is resisted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who cited economic concerns.

February 1, 2020: Trump goes golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

February 4, 2020: Despite rolling back many other regulations, the Administration rolls out new regulations requiring the CDC to retest every positive coronavirus test run by a public health lab to confirm its accuracy, wasting limited resources and slowing down response efforts.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) send a letter urging the Trump administration to transmit a request to Congress for emergency supplemental appropriations to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

February 5, 2020: Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), says after a briefing with the Administration on the coronavirus that it is clear they are not taking the outbreak seriously. He specifically notes they aren’t requesting any emergency funding, which is vital to ensure local health systems are prepared.

During the briefing, senators proposed emergency funding. Secretary Azar declined, claiming it wasn’t needed.

February 6, 2020: WHO reports that it will ship 250,000 test kits around the globe. The CDC distributes just 90 kits on this day.

February 7, 2020: Trump tweets, “…as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shares that the U.S. has sent nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies, including masks, gowns, gauze, and respirators, to China.

February 10, 2020: Trump says, “I think the virus is going to be—it’s going to be fine.”

Meanwhile, Trump holds a campaign rally in New Hampshire.

February 11, 2020: Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell contradicts Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, saying it is “very likely” the coronavirus will impact the U.S. economy.

February 12, 2020: Trump proclaims, “[w]e have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it. It’s like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we’re in very good shape.”

The New York Times reports the CDC sent state public health labs flawed test kits.

February 14, 2020: Health officials at the National Security Council draft a memo about the potential need for “quarantine and isolation measures to combat the virus.” They were scheduled to brief Trump on the plan, but the briefing was later canceled.

February 15, 2020: Trump goes golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

February 19, 2020: Trump again makes the unfounded claim that the virus will subside as we get into the warmer months, saying “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let’s see what happens, but I think it’s going to work out fine.”

Trump also holds a campaign rally in Arizona.

February 20, 2020: Trump holds a campaign rally in Colorado.

February 21, 2020: The White House coronavirus task force conducts a mock response to a pandemic and concludes mass social distancing will be needed.

Trump holds a campaign rally in Nevada.

February 23, 2020: A second memo from Mr. Navarro warns of the increasing chance of a full-blown pandemic. A major outbreak emerges in the Lombardy region of Italy, yet travel to and from European countries has not been halted.

February 24, 2020: Trump tweets from a trip to India, “[t]he Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

February 25, 2020: Trump tweets, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer is complaining, for publicity purposes only, that I should be asking for more money than $2.5 Billion to prepare for Coronavirus. If I asked for more he would say it is too much. He didn’t like my early travel closings. I was right. He is incompetent!”

Director of the National Economics Council Larry Kudlow tells CNBC: “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”

Meanwhile, the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases warns about the spread of the virus sand says “we need to be preparing for significant disruption in our lives.”

February 26, 2020: During his daily press briefing Trump says, “[w]hen you have 15 people — and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero — that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

He also tweets: “Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!”

February 27, 2020: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), who had received briefings on the threat, tells attendees at a private luncheon that the coronavirus is “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history” and is “is probably more akin to the 1918 [influenza] pandemic.”

February 28, 2020: Trump unleashes a series of assertions that the outbreak of the coronavirus is not nearly as bad as health officials, Democrats, and the media proclaim:

  • “I think it’s really going well…We’re prepared for the worst, but we think we’re going to be very fortunate.”
  • “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
  • “This is their new hoax.”

Trump also hosts a campaign rally in South Carolina, where he tells attendees: “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. They can’t even count their votes.”

February 29, 2020: The U.S. reports its first death as a result of COVID-19, and announces additional travel restrictions for Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

March 2, 2020: Trump tweets, “I was criticized by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended. Saved many lives. Dems were working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn’t have a clue! Now they are fear mongering. Be calm & vigilant!”

March 3, 2020: Vice President Pence announces the CDC will finally lift all restrictions on testing for the coronavirus to allow for more widespread testing.

March 4, 2020: During a briefing with airline CEOs, Trump tells participants that “[s]ome people will have this at a very light level and won’t even go to a doctor or hospital, and they’ll get better. There are many people like that.”

March 6, 2020: Trump visited the CDC and claimed the pandemic “came out of nowhere,”

March 7, 2020: Trump goes golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

March 8, 2020: Trump again goes golfing at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, FL.

March 9, 2020: During a news conference, White House officials say the U.S. will have tested one million people that week and thereafter would complete 4 million tests per week. By the end of the week, the CDC had only completed a paltry 4,000 tests.

March 10, 2020: Trump proclaims at his daily press briefing: “And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

He also falsely declares, “[w]hen 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.”

March 11, 2020: The WHO declares a global pandemic, and the White House suspends travel from most European countries. The United Kingdom was excluded, despite having confirmed cases.

In a meeting with bankers that day, Trump says, “I think we’re going to get through it very well.”

March 12, 2020: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Congress that the country does not have sufficient testing. “The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” he said. “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”

Yet Trump claims during a White House briefing that there are a “million tests out now.”

News reports reveal that a Brazilian official who met with Trump and Pence and posed shoulder-to-shoulder for a photo-op with the President and Vice President has tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump says he is not concerned.

March 13, 2020: 52 days after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 70 days after Trump Administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, Trump declares a national emergency.

Trump also falsely claims that Google is working on developing a platform to help people get access to testing, and he promises to create a network of drive-through testing sites in conjunction with stores like Target and Walmart where people could be tested “very safely, quickly, and conveniently.”

When asked whether he took responsibility for the lack of testing, Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

March 16, 2020: During a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, Trump claims, “[i]f you’re talking about the virus, no, that’s not under control for any place in the world…I was talking about what we’re doing is under control, but I’m not talking about the virus.”

March 17, 2020: Trump claims, “I’ve always known this is a, this is a real, this is a pandemic … I’ve felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

March 18, 2020: Trump tweets, “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!”

Trump says he will invoke the Defense Production Act, but does not order the production of any needed supplies.

March 24, 2020: Despite most states across the country issuing stay at home orders, Trump brazenly declares the country and economy would be “raring to go by Easter.” At the daily White House press briefing, he says “[t]here is tremendous hope as we look forward and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

March 27, 2020: Trump signs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security Act (Public Law No: 116-136), a $2 trillion relief package. In his signing statement, Trump indicates his intent to flout the law’s oversight components.

Trump also finally invokes the Defense Production Act, ordering General Motors Company to “accept, preform, and prioritize contracts or orders for” ventilators.

March 29, 2020: As the number of confirmed cases mounted, Trump is only focused on this TV ratings, tweeting the following:

“Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!”

“President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise...”

And just five days after his Easter day declaration, he walks that date back. During a White House Rose Garden press conference that they would be extending stay home and social distancing guidelines through April 30. “We can expect that, by June 1st, we will be well on our way to recovery.”

March 30, 2020: Finally, Trump starts to take a more serious tone, stating during the daily press briefing that “[t]his could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is gonna be a very bad two — or maybe even three — weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we haven't seen before."

March 31, 2020: After comparing COVID-19 to the flu on multiple occasions, he suddenly reverses course: “But it's not the flu. It's vicious. When you send a friend to the hospital and you call up to find out, how is he doing, it happened to me. Where he goes to the hospital, he says goodbye, sort of a tough guy, little older, little heavier than he'd like to be, frankly. And you call up the next day, 'how's he doing?' And he's in a coma? This is not the flu.”

A letter from Captain of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, Brett Crozier, urging the Navy to step up its response to COVID-19 leaks to the press.

April 1, 2020: Trump once again talks about his popularity, asking whether those attending the daily press briefing knew he was “number one on Facebook.”

April 2, 2020: Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, claims the national federal stockpile is not for the states. The webpage for the national federal stockpile is later updated to reflect Kushner’s statement.

The Department of Defense works to fulfill a request from FEMA for 100,000 body bags.

Captain Brett Crozier is relieved of duty.

April 3, 2020: Of course, the serious tone did not last. Three days later, Trump stands by previous comments, telling the press, “I said it was going away – and it’s going away.” The U.S. reached 273,880 confirmed cases on this day.

April 7, 2020: Trump removes Acting Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Glen Fine, from his post, thus also removing him as chair of the newly formed Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, created under the CARES Act.

Trump also blames WHO for getting “every aspect” of the coronavirus wrong.

April 8, 2020: The Administration announces it will end FEMA funding for community-based coronavirus testing sites, saying states have to pick up the tab.

April 9, 2020: The Administration reverses course and says it will continue to fund community-based testing sites.

Jobless claims reach 17 million.

Trump, once again, tweets about his ratings: The Wall Street Journal always “forgets” to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefings are “through the roof” (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across. WSJ is Fake News!”

April 12, 2020: While appearing on CNN, Dr. Fauci says, “[i]f…you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.”

April 13, 2020: During the White House press conference, Trump insists “[e]verything we did was right.

April 14, 2020: At the daily press briefing, Trump makes the wild assertion that “[w]hen somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”

Trump insists that his signature go on stimulus checks to struggling Americans, thus delaying receipt of the funding.

Trump also announces that the U.S. will freeze funding to WHO, claiming they severely mismanaged and covered up the spread of the coronavirus.

April 16, 2020: The Administration releases guidelines telling the nation’s governors they can begin re-opening businesses, restaurants, and schools by May 1 or earlier.

April 17, 2020: Continuing to fluctuate between deflecting all responsibility to the states and complaining the federal government has absolute power in deciding when the country can resume business as usual, Trump fires off a series of tweets urging insurrection of stay home orders, though he only targeted states with Democratic governors.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveils a $19 billion aid plan to assist the nation’s farmers, with a $3 billion set aside to buy access food, but not before millions of pounds of produce have gone to waste as food banks struggle to meet increased demands.

April 20, 2020: Trump says he will halt immigration “[i]n light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy.”

April 21, 2020: Rather than halting all immigration, the Trump announces they will suspend the issuance of green cards for at least sixty days. It is later revealed that the executive order only blocks some new entrants, and will not change the status of immigrants already in the U.S.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both call Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to express support of his decision to begin reopening businesses across the state.

April 22, 2020: Dr. Rick Bright, director of HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is abruptly removed from his position and reassigned to a smaller role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Bright believes he was removed because he insisted that the government invest funding into scientifically vetted treatments.

Santa Clara County, California announces that autopsy results revealed that a 57-year-old woman who passed away on February 6, 2020 and a 69-year-old man who died on February 17, 2020, died as a result of the coronavirus. Previously, the earliest known death in the U.S. related to the coronavirus was thought to be February 29, 2020 in Washington.

Trump once again contradicts himself, telling reporters during the daily press conference that he “strongly” disagrees with Governor Kemp’s decision to begin reopening businesses in Georgia.

April 23, 2020: Unemployment claims soar to 26 million over the past five weeks.

At the daily press conference, Trump hypothesizes about the possibility of using a “tremendous ultraviolet” or “just a very powerful light” on or inside the body as a possible treatment, as well as pondering whether disinfectant can be injected into the body. This led to the company that makes Lysol and Dettol, two disinfectants, to issue a warning to not inject or ingest their products into the body.

April 24, 2020: The U.S. hits a grim milestone: more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19. This is sixteen times greater than the number of Americans who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

April 26, 2020: Two days after the U.S. death toll reaches 50,000, Trump spends the day tweeting attacks at reporters for their coverage of his handling of the pandemic:

  • “The people that know me and know the history of our Country say that I am the hardest working President in history. I don’t know about that, but I am a hard worker and have probably gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any President in history. The Fake News hates it!”
  • “When will all of the ‘reporters’ who have received Noble Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia, only to have been proven totally wrong (and, in fact, it was the other side who committed the crimes), be turning back their cherished ‘Nobles’ so that they can be given to the REAL REPORTERS & JOURNALISTS who got it right.”

Many of the tweets were later deleted.

Meanwhile, Governors Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Larry Hogan (R-MD) report that there was a surge of phone calls to poison control hotlines in their states inquiring whether disinfectant could be injected to cure the coronavirus.

April 27, 2020: News reports reveal that Trump has pushed almost daily to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan because of the coronavirus, yet Navy aircraft carriers continue to be deployed despite the outbreak on the U.S.S. Theodore.

During the daily press conference, Trump praises his Administration’s response to the pandemic as “incredible,” and seemingly ignoring his own failures when saying,“[i]t could have been stopped and it could have been stopped short, but somebody a long time ago, it seems, decided not to do it that way. And the whole world is suffering because of it.”

The Washington Post reports that “U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February[.]”

The death toll in the U.S. rises past 50,000 and nears 1 million total confirmed cases.

April 28, 2020: During the daily press conference, when asked by a reporter about his February 26 assertion that the country’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus would be “down to close to zero” within just a couple of days, Trump says “[w]ell, it will go down to zero, ultimately.”

Trump also claims that “many experts said” the coronavirus would “never affect the United States.”

The U.S. surpasses 1 million known cases of the coronavirus. Some researchers estimate that true number of infections may be ten times the known number.

Administration Officials Removed from Positions or Sidelined Over Coronavirus Warnings

  • Christi Grimm: Trump publicly attacked Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm for publishing a report critical of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, tweeting she was an Obama loyalist.
  • Glen Fine: Trump removes Acting Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Glen Fine, from his post, thus also removing him as chair of the newly formed Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, created under the CARES Act.
  • Surgeon General Jerome Adams: Dr. Adams has been largely absent from public appearances since making remarks at the April 10, 2020 White House press briefing regarding the heightened threat of COVID-19 to minorities.
  • Dr. Rick Bright: Dr. Bright, director of HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is abruptly removed from his position on April 22, 2020 and reassigned to a smaller role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Bright believes he was removed because he insisted that the government invest funding into scientifically vetted treatments.
  • Dr. Nancy Messonnier: According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump nearly fired Dr. Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, after remarks she made on February 25, 2020 regarding the inevitability of a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. She has not appeared at White House briefings since that day.