Despite White House claims that President Donald Trump and the administration did everything right in response to the coronavirus, a source close to the task force said tougher social distancing measures implemented earlier in the pandemic could have blunted the severity of the current crisis.
It all depends, the source said, whether there were coronavirus infections in the US that were going undetected during the initial weeks of the outbreak, when the Trump administration was falling behind on testing for the virus nationwide.
Numerous public health experts have said those cases were likely going undetected, considering the lack of widespread testing.
“If there were no infections out there, then there was nothing to mitigate,” the source said. “If there were infections under the radar, it might have made a difference.”
A Trump adviser working with White House officials on messaging for the pandemic response said Trump “took a gamble” that warmer weather would cause the virus to dissipate, siding with aides who were pushing back on the dire warnings coming from doctors on the coronavirus task force.
On February 10, Trump had said of the virus: “You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases – 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.”
On March 5, the World Health Organization said the idea was worth investigating, but advised the concept was not a sure thing.
The adviser said the President took a gamble “and got it wrong” in reference to Trump’s decision to ignore the predictions from the administration’s own experts.
“He analyzed the data and opinions of experts and sided with the one that said warm weather will likely slow the virus,” the adviser added.
That was before Trump abruptly changed course Tuesday and offered a sober briefing on the potential for more than 100,000 US deaths as a result of the virus.
In early February, Trump tweeted that China’s handling of the outbreak would be helped by warming weather, but several infectious disease experts told CNN at the time that not enough was known about how this coronavirus, which had just been discovered in humans in December, would react to changing temperatures.
And Vice President Mike Pence told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that Trump’s past statements that seemed to downplay the coronavirus outbreak were based in optimism. Pence also denied Trump had minimized the crisis early on, despite repeated statements casting the virus as a problem that would be easily solved.
“I don’t believe the President has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” Pence said.
Given examples of the President doing just that – either by comparing it favorably to the flu or auto accidents or by saying cases would get to zero quickly – Pence said Trump was trying to maintain a rosy outlook.
“The President is an optimistic person,” Pence told Blitzer. “We’ve been from the very beginning, when the President suspended all travel from China and stood up the White House coronavirus task force in January, we have been hoping for the best but planning for the worst, and that’s been being worked out every single day. And what the American people can see in this President every day is a leader who knows that we will get through this.”