“Is This True?!”: The February Email That Should’ve Woken up the White House

Tia Dufour, Zuma

The coronavirus is a rapidly developing news story, so some of the content in this article might be out of date. Check out our most recent coverage of the coronavirus crisis, and subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

The same day President Donald Trump claimed to have the coronavirus outbreak “very much under control in this country,” his top disaster response official at the Department of Health and Human Services sent an email that should have been the White House’s holy-shit moment.

A New York Times investigation on Saturday reveals how, in late February, the White House’s coronavirus task force had shifted to preparing for the virus’ inevitable spread inside the United States. 

Two days after that meeting, a task force member, HHS official Dr. Robert Kadlec, read an alarming email from a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology about how asymptomatic cases were helping spread the virus:

A 20-year-old Chinese woman had infected five relatives with the virus even though she never displayed any symptoms herself. The implication was grave — apparently healthy people could be unknowingly spreading the virus — and supported the need to move quickly to mitigation.

“Is this true?!” Dr. Kadlec wrote back to the researcher. “If so we have a huge whole on our screening and quarantine effort,” including a typo where he meant hole. Her response was blunt: “People are carrying the virus everywhere.”

Here’s the full email, per the Times:

New York Times

Kadlec and others presented Trump with a plan, “Four Steps to Mitigation.”

We know Trump didn’t follow their advice, instead spending the next days and weeks minimizing the coronavirus by claiming the flu was deadlier and attacking Democrats and the media for their supposed politicization of the crisis. While Washington state was battling the worst of its outbreak, Trump called Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee “a nasty person.” Trump said he wanted governors to be “appreciative” of his aid. 

On March 10, Trump said, “we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” 

Now a month later, the United States has reached a grim milestone, passing Italy on Saturday as the world leader in deaths from the virus. More than 20,000 people have died in the country.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate