Republican Richard Burr, the three-term North Carolina senator and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned a group of wealthy constituents and campaign contributors on February 27 that the coronavirus outbreak was “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” according to a recording of the meeting cited by National Public Radio.
Despite delivering what NPR called his “dire” message to the Tar Heel Circle — a group that reportedly charges membership fees of up to $10,000 — Burr made no public comments about the warning he gave to the private group. Burr reportedly told the group that North Carolina schools would need to be closed 16 days before the schools announced closings. He also purportedly warned that the U.S. military would likely need to be mobilized to assist in containing the pandemic and treating victims of the virus.
On the same day that Burr delivered his alarming but prescient warnings to the Tar Heel Circle, Trump said at a press briefing that the coronavirus could “disappear,” saying that it would be like a “miracle,” as quoted by NPR.
The so-called “Spanish flu” pandemic in 1918 killed 675,000 people in the United States, somewhat less than 1 percent of the country’s population in that year. That death toll would be equivalent to more than 2 million fatalities in the current U.S. population of about 327 million.
At the February 27 Tar Heel Circle luncheon, Burr told the group that coronavirus was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” as quoted by NPR.
According to records obtained and reported by NPR, member businesses in the Tar Heel Circle and their political committees donated upward of $100,000 to Burr’s 2016 reelection campaign for a third term in the Senate. Burr, who once declared that there was “no separation” between himself and Donald Trump, has since announced that his current term will be his last, and he will not seek a fourth term in 2022.
On February 7, Burr and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander authored an op-ed for Fox News. In that essay, the two Republicans claimed that “the Trump Administration is actively implementing” the public health “preparedness and response framework” put in place by Congress.
The Fox News op-ed included no warnings as stark as those Burr delivered in his private talk to the Tar Heel Group, which came 13 days before the U.S. State Department issued an official warning against travel to Europe due to the coronavirus crisis there.
A spokesperson for Burr told NPR that the Tar Heel Circle luncheon was simply part of the Republican senator’s efforts to “educate the public about the tools and resources our government has to confront the spread of coronavirus.”