Scientists' Advice on COVID-19 Ignored by White House Officials

On April 11, 2020, the New York Times reported that White House officials repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists and public health experts about the risks posed by COVID-19. According to the report, in early January 2020, Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger received information from a Hong Kong-based epidemiologist that COVID-19 was spreading rapidly and could soon reach the U.S. That was confirmed in reports by scientists from the Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department. Based on the reports, biodefense experts within the National Security Council urged Trump administration officials to begin planning for an outbreak in the U.S., and "think about what would be needed to quarantine a city the size of Chicago." Simultaneously, Mr. Pottinger and others began pushing for limits on travel from China, but faced opposition from President Trump's economic advisers, who were keen to avoid actions that could impact the trade deal with China. President Trump was briefed on the issue by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who warned him about the seriousness of the virus and the potential for it to spread throughout the U.S. The President dismissed Secretary Azar's concerns, telling him to "stop panicking." He subsequently downplayed the virus, telling reporters that it was "under control," and is "going to be just fine."