KEY POINTS

  • Intelligence reports warning about COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. were received in January
  • The White House issued social distancing rules in mid-March
  • The U.S currently leads the world in the number of COVID0-19 related deaths

Anthony Fauci said more lives could have been saved in the U.S. if firm social distancing norms had been enforced in February. On Sunday (April 12), he said the suggestions were met with unfavorable reactions at that time.

A New York Times report had said that the President was warned about the potential risk of a pandemic by Fauci and the other health experts but those internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led the administration to push back the suggestion. 

When asked by host Jake Tapper about the report at CNN’s “State of the Union,” Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, said that he and other experts had concluded on Feb. 21 that aggressive mitigation measures were needed to slow down the spread of COVID-19. 

In a meeting convened by Robert Kadlec, the top disaster response official at the Health and Human Services Department, in the third week of February, it was decided that mitigation measures such as school and business closures were necessary, the NY Times report noted.

"As I have said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it's not. It is what it is. We are where we are right now," Fauci said.

On Feb. 28, Trump had predicted that the disease would disappear like a “miracle,” The Hill reported. When questioned about those comments last week, Trump said he was trying to avoid creating panic. 

When asked if more lives could have been saved if the social distancing restrictions had been in place earlier, Fauci did not deny it.

"Obviously, no one is going to deny that, but what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated," he said. "I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different, but there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

Intelligence reports warning about COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. had been received as early as January by the National Security Council. However, social distancing guidelines,  including recommendations against gatherings of more than 10 people, were issued by the White House in mid-March.

The Trump administration which has been under the scanner for the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak in the country, was further criticized after the NY Times report accused the administration of failing to take action at the right time.

The U.S. had currently reported more than 530,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 20,000 deaths caused by it as of Sunday morning. 

Asked if the numbers were a direct reflection of the late start of mitigation measures, Fauci noted that the current situation was the result of a number of factors including the size and heterogeneity of the country.

“It would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don't think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor," Fauci said.