Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar warned President TrumpDonald John TrumpCalifornia governor praises Trump’s efforts to help state amid coronavirus crisis Trump threatens to withhold visas for countries that don’t quickly repatriate citizens Trump admin looks to cut farmworker pay to help industry during pandemic: report MORE multiple times about the threat and possibility of a coronavirus outbreak weeks before the president took sweeping action to stop the spread of the virus, according to multiple news outlets.
At the beginning of January, Azar was notified by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the virus, which was at the time spreading through the Chinese city of Wuhan. Azar then notified the White House and sent a report to the National Security Council, The Washington Post reported.
Azar first briefed Trump about the threat the virus posed on Jan. 18 while the president was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to both the Post and The New York Times.
Then, on Jan. 30, Azar briefed the president again on the virus, this time warning that it had the potential to become a pandemic, the Times reported. Trump reportedly told Azar that he was being alarmist.
The next day, Trump announced travel restrictions from China; the first case of the COVID-19 in the U.S. had been reported 11 days earlier.
Throughout February, the administration struggled to implement a response to the spreading virus. Azar said that the government was establishing a “surveillance” system in several American cities to track the spread of the virus and arm experts with the data necessary to predict the hot spots of the disease. However, that process was delayed weeks.
It was not until March 13 that Trump declared the virus — now labeled a global pandemic by the World Health Organization — a national emergency. The White House then quickly rolled out social distancing guidelines for the country that were recently extended to the end of April.
Trump has pointed to his decision to restrict travel from China in January as a move that prevented the outbreak in the country from being worse than it is, but many health experts and Trump opponents have slammed the administration’s refusal to take more stringent steps to combat the outbreak sooner.
The U.S. is now the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than half a million confirmed cases and nearly 20,000 deaths as of Saturday afternoon, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.