Documents released Friday reveal how the Trump administration downplayed the deadly danger of the burgeoning Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, silencing and sidelining top health officials who sought to warn the public and destroy evidence of political interference, while rosy statements that the outbreak was “completely under control” and would soon be over.
The emails and transcripts — released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis — show that when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) realized that the highly contagious virus causing Covid-19 was spreading rapidly, officials of the service to hold briefings on mask guidance and other matters. Their requests were denied.
Top Trump officials have also moved to block the CDC from publishing information about the pandemic and attempted to change the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs) to reflect former President Donald Trump’s unrealistically optimistic Covid-19 reports. – who infamously made such claims in January and February 2020 as “we have it completely under control”, that the outbreak “will have a very happy ending” and that the number of infections would be “close to zero” in a few days.
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According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, more than 760,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 since Friday, making it the deadliest pandemic in the country’s history.
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The emails and transcripts describe how Trump and his White House allies blocked media briefings and interviews with CDC officials in the early days of 2020, attempted to change public safety guidelines normally approved by the agency, and instructed agency officials to destroy evidence that may be perceived as political interference.
The documents further underscore how Trump appointees sought to undermine the work of scientists and professional personnel at the CDC to contain government messages about the spread of the virus and the dangers of transmission and infection.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (DS.C.), chairman of the coronavirus subcommittee, said in a statement that “the Trump administration’s use of the pandemic to achieve political goals was most manifested in its efforts to improve scientific manipulate and undermine CDC’s work,” adding that the investigation “uncovered a dizzying pattern of political interference.”
Peter Suwondo, former CDC health adviser, said the new revelations are “more evidence of how health leaders at the CDC were silenced and drowned out in the early days of the pandemic.”
“Top elected officials preferred to keep Americans in the dark and make policies based on political considerations, not science,” he added.
In addition to disrupting the work of CDC officials, the documents show that Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump’s special adviser, weakened Covid-19 testing while pushing a questionable herd immunity strategy. They also reveal Trump’s anger at Dr. Nancy Messonnier — then director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases — after giving a press conference on Feb. 25, 2020 to warn of the severity of the outbreak.
“It’s not so much a question of whether this will happen again,” Messonnier said of the rapidly spreading pandemic, “but rather a question of exactly when.”
When asked about a CNN report that CDC officials felt “muzzled” by the government’s actions, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the agency’s former deputy director: “That’s the feeling we had, many of us.”
Friday’s revelations follow Thursday’s coverage that: ABC news correspondent Jonathan Karl’s new book, Betrayal: The Trump Show’s Final Act, details how the former president’s re-election team ordered Covid-19 testing to be halted during a June 2020 outbreak in which infected campaign workers and Secret Service agents spread the virus before, during and after a rally in an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, speaking at the Tulsa event, died of Covid-19 about a month later.
“We killed Herman Cain,” a senior Trump campaign official told me ABC news reporter Will Steakin, according to the new book.
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