May 6, 2020 – President Trump in recent days has attempted to downplay the volume of intelligence in early 2020 that warned him of the impending pandemic. The White House claimed that Trump received only two virus briefings in late January, apparently dismissing the more than one dozen warnings in Trump’s written President’s Daily Brief — and confirming, unsurprisingly, that Trump does not actually read it.  

Trump’s latest attempt to evade responsibility ignores an obvious reality: even without the access to classified intelligence he had, the media had already reported, extensively, that the coronavirus endangered the American people. Increasingly dire warnings were splashed across the world’s papers for weeks in January before Trump claims to have seen the relevant intelligence. That’s precisely why experts currently outside of government, including former Trump administration officials and former Vice President Joe Biden, took to the op-ed pages with their own warnings and to urge action to prepare for the impending pandemic, just as Trump was praising China, holding political rallies, and playing golf

We knew that Trump didn’t listen to the Intelligence Community. We knew he didn’t listen to his own advisors. And we know that he buried his head in the sand for weeks — deliberately prioritizing his initial, empty trade deal with Beijing over America’s public health, willfully ignoring the warnings in plain sight. 

Select Headlines from December 2019 and Early 2020:

“China investigates SARS-like virus as dozens struck by pneumonia” – December 31, 2019. German outlet Deutsche Welle reports: “Wuhan health officials issued an emergency notification” that “urged hospitals to offer treatment and report cases in a ‘timely manner,’” as Chinese health authorities “are investigating 27 cases of viral pneumonia in central Hubei province, amid online speculation that it could be linked to the SARS flu-like virus that killed hundreds of people a decade ago.”

“World Health Organisation in touch with Beijing after mystery viral pneumonia outbreak” – January 1, 2020. The South China Morning Post: “World Health Organisation said it is in ongoing contact with authorities in China over an unidentified outbreak of viral pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan.”

“Hong Kong activates ‘serious response level’ for infectious diseases as Wuhan pneumonia outbreak escalates” – January 4, 2020, The South China Morning Post reports: that “Hong Kong launched a new response mechanism for infectious diseases on Saturday morning, setting it to “serious” level – the second in a three-tier scale – in response to the outbreak of an unidentified form of pneumonia in Wuhan city in mainland China.”

“Canadian officials closely monitoring mysterious virus based in China” – January 7, 2020. The Ottawa Citizen reports: “Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has been in touch with provincial and territorial public health officials, the World Health Organization and other international partners to discuss the mysterious virus.” The report notes that “global infectious disease officials have long warned that another pandemic is coming.”

“Specter of possible new virus emerging from central China raises alarms across Asia” – January 8, 2020. TheWashington Post reports: “The outbreak of an unidentified and possibly new viral disease in central China is prompting officials across Asia to take heightened precautions ahead of the busy Lunar New Year travel season.”

“WHO says new China coronavirus could spread, warns hospitals worldwide” – January 14, 2020. Reuters reports that the World Health Organization “has given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection prevention and control,” with one WHO official noting emerging evidence indicating the possibility of “limited human-to-human transmission.”

“Human-to-human transmission confirmed in China coronavirus” – January 20, 2020: TheAP reports: “Human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in an outbreak of a new coronavirus, a development that raises the possibility that it could spread more quickly and widely.”

“We’re past ‘if’ on the coronavirus. We’re on to ‘how bad will it be?’” – January 22, 2020. Two public health experts write in the Washington Post: “It is already too late to avoid multiple cases of the dangerous new coronavirus in the United States. We are past the ‘if’ question and squarely facing the ‘how bad will it be’ phase of the response.”

“Trump is worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak” – January 27, 2020.Former Vice President Biden writes in USA Today: The outbreak of a new coronavirus, which has already infected more than 2,700people and killed over 80 in China, will get worse before it gets better. Cases have been confirmed in a dozen countries, with at least five in the United States. There will likely be more.

“Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic” – January 28, 2020. In the Wall Street Journal, two former Trump administration officials warn: “The novel coronavirus now epidemic in China has features that may make it very difficult to control. If public-health authorities don’t interrupt the spread soon, the virus could infect many thousands more around the globe, disrupt air travel, overwhelm health-care systems, and, worst of all, claim more lives.”

“The Coronavirus Is a Threat to the Global Drug Supply” – January 28, 2020: Wired warns: “The world’s pharmaceutical supply chain is in danger as the virus spreads across China and jeopardizes travel and trade,” as infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja, communicated concerns about “whether or not the stability of our supply chain will remain intact.”

“Mask Hoarders May Raise Risk of a Coronavirus Outbreak in the U.S.” – January 29, 2020. The New York Times alerts that “mask hoarding has begun” in the United States, as “the prospect of shortages created by panic buying worries some public health experts.” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a health security expert at Johns Hopkins says “public health authorities like the H.H.S. or the C.D.C. or the Surgeon General should be talking about the repercussions of a run on masks.”

“Coronavirus declared global health emergency by WHO after 1st person-to-person US case reported” – January 30, 2020. According to ABC News, the World Health Organization “declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern,” just the sixth time WHO has ever made such a declaration. Meanwhile, the “first case of human-to-human coronavirus transmission in the U.S. has been confirmed.”

“Wuhan Coronavirus Looks Increasingly Like a Pandemic, Experts Say” – February 2, 2020. The New York Times warns that the coronavirus is “likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts.” The report notes a “growing consensus that the pathogen is readily transmitted between humans.”

We are former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad.