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Earliest Days of the COVID19 Pandemic in the United States

On December 31, Dr Anne Schuchat, a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scientist, noticed a report about four cases of unexplained pneumonia in Wuhan China. She emailed Jay Butler, head of the coronavirus response team, asking if “any of your folks know more about the ‘unknown pneumonia.”

On December 31, Dr. Dan Jernigan, CDC influenza chief, and his boss, Dr Nancy Messonnier, met at CDC and learned that Wuhan had 27 cases connected to an outdoor seafood market in Wuhan. Messonnier wrote in an email, “Raises concern about SARS.”

On December 31, Robert Redfield, CDC director, read this news while celebrating the holidays in New Hampshire and told family and friends about a new virus in China that might affect the whole world. According to Politico, he said, “We should be bracing ourselves.”

On January 3, CDC director Robert Redfield called Gao Fu, director of China’s CDC, about the mysterious respiratory illness spreading throughout Wuhan. Redfield then relayed this information to Alex Azar, director of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar instructed his chief of staff to inform The National Security Council.

On January 3, Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser and a hawk on China, received a blunt warning from a doctor and longtime friend in China that a ferocious, new outbreak similar to the SARS epidemic of 2003 had emerged and was spreading far more quickly than the Chinese government was admitting. Mr. Pottinger alerted his boss, Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, and began convening daily meetings about the novel coronavirus. Inside the West Wing, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, Joe Grogan, also sounded alarms that the threat from China was growing.

On January 6, Robert Redfield, CDC Director, sent a letter to George Gao in Beijing, China, offering United States assistance, but was rebuffed.

On Jan 15, President Trump’s economic advisers, led by Steven Mnuchin, expressed concern that a tough stance towards China could derail the trade deal that was so important to his re-election campaign.

On January 15, a man flew home to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport WA after visiting his family in Wuhan, China and went to his home in Snohomish County, WA. He became ill and was hospitalized. On January 21, he became the first confirmed case of novel coronavirus 2019 in the United States.

On January 17, Homeland Security began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at San Francisco, Los Angeles and JFK airports for fever, cough and breathing difficulties.

On January 17, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stated that “based on current information CDC believed the current risk from this virus to the general public was low.” She explained that most novel coronavirus infections went from animals to people and human to human transmission was limited.

On January 18, Alex Azar called President Trump for the first time, while he was at Mar-a-Lago, to warn him about the potential seriousness of SARS-CoV-2. President Trump cut him off and started criticizing him about the aborted federal ban on e-cigarettes.

On January 20, a SARS-CoV-2 infected individual boarded the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Eventually more than 700 of the 3711 passengers and crew members tested positive.

On January 20, the United States’ CDC activated its emergency operations center. This action should have prompted the White House to activate a national level incident command system, but it did not happen.

On Jan. 22, WHO issued a statement saying that evidence suggested human-to-human transmission in the Chinese city but that more investigation was needed to understand the full extent of the transmission. WHO convened an independent committee to determine whether to declare a global health emergency. After two inconclusive meetings, they decided against it.

On January 22, 2020, while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, CNN asked President Trump if he was concerned about a pandemic. He replied, “No. Not at all. And 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.”

On January 22, China admitted to a surge of 444 cases of strange pneumonia with 17 official deaths.

On January 23, with China’s Lunar New Year holiday beginning in two days, Beijing placed Wuhan into a lockdown. A travel ban was ordered, but only after five million people had already fled the metropolis for the holiday. That same day, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus publicly described the spread of the new coronavirus in China as “limited.”

On January 23, Dr. Messonnier of the CDC said, “We are looking for returning travelers who have fever, cough, and respiratory symptoms.”

On January 24, President Trump tweeted, “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!”

On January 25, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, warned Americans not to visit Wuhan and to avoid travel to China during Lunar New Year celebrations.

On January 26, Chinese authorities announced that the virus was spreading by person-to-person contact and that the spreaders were often asymptomatic. This warning should have been a red flag about the reliability of airport screening procedures worldwide. By this date, China had reported a total of 2,744 cases with 80 deaths.

On January 26, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the virus posed a “very, very low risk to the United States.” However, Thomas Inglesby of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tweeted, “We should be planning for the possibility that the coronavirus cannot be contained.”

On January 27, The National Security Council convened a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House. Stephen E. Biegun, the newly installed deputy secretary of state, announced plans to issue a “level four” travel warning, strongly discouraging Americans from traveling to China.

On January 27, Messonnier reiterated “We at CDC don’t have any clear evidence of patients being infectious before symptom onset.” On the same day, Dr. Camilla Rothe, an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital, was notified by the government lab that a businessman from an auto parts company had tested positive for novel coronavirus. This was the first confirmed case in Germany and was transmitted by a Chinese visitor, who was asymptomatic at the time of their meeting. The visitor began feeling ill after her flight back to China, tested positive and was hospitalized. Dr. Rothe reported her findings of asymptomatic transmission in the New England Journal of Medicine, but her warning was largely ignored and discredited by politicians and public officials.

On January 29, Trump was told about a memo from Peter Navarro, which described the potential risks of a coronavirus pandemic including half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses.

On January 30, China locked down the entire Hubei Province, which included Wuhan. China not only stopped selling masks to other countries, but also imported 20 million surgical masks and respirators.

On January 30, Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, and Luciana Borio, former member of the dissolved National Security Council (NSC) pandemic preparedness office, urged the government to act now to prevent an American epidemic.

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