At one of his administration’s initial meetings to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in January, Donald Trump appeared distracted and unfocused. Rather than discuss the viral threat, he vented his anger over how his newly announced ban on e-cigarettes was being implemented. That description of the meeting appeared in a Washington Post report on Sunday, which also revealed that Trump appeared “uninterested” in the coronavirus as long as most reported cases remained outside the United States.
The administration has been criticized for the slowness of its response to the outbreak, with the leading scientific journal Science describing the initial efforts to test for the virus in the U.S. as “badly bungled.”
According to the Post report, Trump — as well as many of his top aides — were “initially skeptical of just how serious the coronavirus threat was.” About a month after the meeting in which he interrupted discussion of the virus to talk about the vaping ban, Trump finally began to make public statements — only to falsely describe the coronavirus outbreak as “very much under control” in the U.S.
Trump himself became a “font of misinformation and confusion” about the coronavirus, according to Post reporters Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena H. Sun. This in turn further impeded the administration’s response to the potential epidemic.
Late on Sunday morning, a new case reported near Memphis, Tennessee brought the number of confirmed cases inside the U.S. to 471, according to a CNN report. The state of New York also confirmed 17 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number in that state alone to 105. Of those, 12 cases have been identified in New York City, the country’s most heavily populated metropolis.
The Post report enumerates a series of “preventable missteps and blunders” in the administration’s coronavirus response. One of these includes testimony to Congress on February 13, in which Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared that the Centers for Disease Control was beginning work with five major cities to test for the virus.
But at that time, the tests were faulty, and the cities were unprepared to set up testing protocols, according to The Post.
It was Azar who — at the January meeting — attempted to brief Trump on the state of the outbreak in China, where the coronavirus originated. Instead, Trump angrily interrupted him, demanding to know “why did you push me” into the e-cigarette controversy.
On Saturday, reports indicated that an attendee to the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland had tested positive for coronavirus. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump has tasked with leading the coronavirus response, attended that conference. But according to a Guardian report, Trump claimed that he was “not concerned at all” that he himself may have come into contact with the virus there.
“We’ve done a great job,” Trump said, adding that he planned to continue holding “tremendous” campaign rallies with large crowds of supporters.