Coronavirus Has Likely Been Spreading In U.S. For Weeks Because Of Bungled White House Response, Says Expert

A health worker checks the temperature of a man entering the subway in Beijing, China.
Betsy Joles / Getty Images

Pandemic expert and former advisor to the World Health Organization, Jeremy Konyndyk, explained in a lengthy Twitter thread on Sunday that the coronavirus has likely been spreading unchecked throughout communities in the western United States because of the bungled response by the leadership in Donald Trump’s White House.

“Now seems highly likely that there has been undetected community transmission ongoing in parts of the upper West Coast for weeks, at least,” he began his argument, saying that the response within the U.S. has been a major surveillance failure like those seen in Italy and Iran.

Konyndyk wrote that it’s likely people will try to argue the spread of the disease is due to technical problems — like flaws in the test kits — but that’s not what caused the problem.

“It’s an interconnected communications, strategy, process, and execution failure, reflecting a serious breakdown of crisis mgmt,” he continued.

The Georgetown professor, who worked on the government’s Ebola response, added that in the lead-up to the Iraq War, the White House was so intent on obtaining the outcome it wanted that it favored advise and analysis that provided the data it wanted to see. Something similar is happening in Trump’s White House.

“Trump wanted to calm markets, avoid threats to his re-elex, and keep the disease out of the country,” he wrote. “He and his team made those preferences very clear. And got angry at those who deviated.”

As evidence, Konyndyk pointed out a recent story from The Washington Post that shows Trump’s attempts to minimize the seriousness of the virus, including a report that Trump received crucial information about the spread of the virus in California just prior to taking the stage and asserting that COVID-19 was likely to be eradicated in the United States in the near future.

“They operated from presumptions that containment was possible, the risk to the US was low, and transmission was not happening here yet. Repeated those things like a mantra,” Konyndyk said.

As a result, problems like a bottleneck of CDC testing kits for the COVID-19 virus at testing sites has occurred, despite alternative options being available.

All this has taken place, the professor argued, while those outside the administration — some of whom previously worked inside it — have been calling for more testing and a better response to the threat, including better travel controls and surveillance. Those measures weren’t put in place, Konyndyk wrote, because the White House didn’t take the threat of the virus seriously. To date, dozens of people in multiple states have been infected with the virus and two have died.