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Sow Ignorance, Reap Disaster: A COVID-19 Timeline

Sow Ignorance, Reap Disaster: A COVID-19 Timeline

By the early 21st century, America’s Centers for Disease Control had become the world’s leader in the study and control of pandemics. It was a bipartisan success story, an example of what government can accomplish when organized for the common good.

Thanks to the remarkable capabilities of the CDC and other elements of the US health research infrastructure, pandemics that swept the world in recent decades have had so little impact on the US that we scarcely noticed their existence. Apart from Ebola, which due to its horrifying symptoms and African origins touched a special nerve in the US, most Americans can’t name any of the world’s most recent pandemic outbreaks.

Nevertheless, the Religious Right and its eventual Republican allies have labored for years to weaken the CDC and its related institutions. Since the 90’s they have chipped away at the power and effectiveness of our public health infrastructure in every way possible. Across the Tea Party era they finally gained a chance to undermine the budgets of what was otherwise an untouchable, bipartisan agency. Adjusted for inflation, the budget for the NIH, parent of the CDC, still hasn’t recovered from the drastic cuts of the Tea Party era, and the Trump Administration continues to threaten more cuts, as recently as last month.

Trump’s victory gave Republicans a golden opening to cripple America’s science and health institutions, which they pursued with abandon. Trump’s first CDC Director was a grifter from Georgia, who built a career selling quack anti-aging cures. She was fired after her skeevy tobacco stock trading scheme was uncovered. His next, and current head of the CDC is a religious nut who responded to the AIDS crisis with a screed against fact-based sex education.

Our government’s failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, as it had previously contained a series of similar outbreaks, was decades in the making. A timeline of this pandemic disaster starts in the 80’s, as religious activists responsible for the South’s great party-switch to the GOP took aim at every form of science and empirical research. It ends with all of us stuck in our homes, if we’re lucky enough not to be stuck in an ICU bed, attached to a ventilator, or dead.

Ignorance kills. Ignorance mobilized through politics is a weapon of mass destruction. We will learn from this timeline, or die by it.

1987 The CDC, under the Reagan Administration, begins an aggressive sex education campaign in an effort to limit AIDS transmission. The backlash from the religious right is swift and angry. Robert Redfield, who would go on to lead the CDC in the Trump Administration, responded to the AIDS crisis by publishing a bizarre abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, blaming the pandemic on moral decline and the rise of single-parent families.

1992 A CDC study showed that firearm deaths were a major cause of mortality among teens. It also noted that gun deaths were a far more serious problem in the South.

1993 The CDC publishes a report recommending condom use for the prevention of AIDS.

1996 Republicans pass the Dickey Amendment which muzzles CDC research into the impact of guns on public health.

February 1999 Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly publishes an anti-vaxx screed against the CDC in her monthly newsletter, warning that that the CDC’s vaccine program is both medically dangerous and a step toward tyranny. A headline in the newsletter screams, “Vaccines: the Key to Federal Control.” Her piece decries the unaccountable power granted to the “vaccine police” at the CDC. “The more we ask questions, the more we find that the subject of vaccines is not all based on science.”

November 2005 An HHS report prepared in response to the SARS outbreak identifies a critical lack of ventilators as a high-priority national issue. Listed as priority #1 in an healthcare response to a future pandemic:

“Distribute stockpiled ventilators and other medical material needed to treat and care for infected individuals to health departments and federal agencies that provide direct patient care.” p. 25

That report inspired a government program, called Project Aura, that would seek to build a stockpile of low-cost, portable ventilators. It also warns that a pandemic could require, “839,000 to 9,625,000 hospitalizations, 18–42 million outpatient visits, and 20–47 million additional illnesses.”

2007 Tom Coburn compiles a poorly-sourced 100-page screed against the CDC, accusing it of fraud. His misleading expose uncovered such waste as TV’s that were too big for his taste and “a sloping ‘greenscape’ with a stream running over and around artificial rocks where rainwater is collected and sent down the stream to a pond and then pumped back up to the top of the slope and sent down again.”

Why go after the CDC? The answer starts on page 74, where he criticizes continuing CDC efforts to publicize the health dangers of firearms. When your political agenda flies in the face of reality, scientists are your enemy.

Same year, Republicans manage to force the CDC to include abstinence-only speakers in its sexually-transmitted disease programs, in defiance of scientific evidence.

2008 HHS solicits proposals from companies for the production of low-cost ventilators to be added to a national stockpile, part of Project Aura. Newport Medical Instruments wins the bid.

2010 Newport Medical Instruments receives its first $6.1m payment from the federal government to produce ventilators for the national stockpile. First prototype was delivered a few months later. In 2011 the company began ramping up for FDA approval.

May 2011 – Rand Paul proposes to cut the CDC budget by almost a third, explaining:

“The center is often mentioned in media reports highlighting their lavish accommodations. For example, in 2005, the CDC built a conference center for $106 million, complete with large-screen plasma TVs. They also spent tens of millions of dollars on state-of-the-art anti-gravity seating for employees, as well as luxury furniture. Taxpayers can no longer afford the luxury working atmosphere of the CDC.”

More modest cuts were passed by the new Tea Party Congress and forced on the White House.

Sept 2011 Presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann claims that vaccinations cause “mental retardation.”

May 2012 Newport Medical Instruments is acquired by Covidien. The next month the company filed its FDA clearance, but requested more federal money and a higher price for the devices. The government complies.

From The New York Times:

“Government officials and executives at rival ventilator companies said they suspected that Covidien had acquired Newport to prevent it from building a cheaper product that would undermine Covidien’s profits from its existing ventilator business.”

March 28, 2014 Trump’s most prominent anti-vaxxer tweet.

June 2014 Medical device maker, Covidian asks to terminate its government contract to mass-produce affordable ventilators. A six-year federal project to address ventilator shortages was thrown back to square one.

October 2014 Project Aura starts over, this time awarding the respirator contract to Respironics, a division of Philips.

A National Review post outlines the Republican case against the CDC and NIH in the midst of the Ebola outbreak, after Tea Party Republicans flatlined the agencies’ budgets in 2011. It’s a pitch-perfect explanation of the logic behind the Trump Administration’s campaign to wreck the agencies a few years later.

Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers PAC behind the Tea Party, publishes a blog post criticizing the waste and ineffectiveness of the hated CDC.

July 2015 HHS launches another effort to produce more ventilators, this time with a Pennsylvania subsidiary of Philips. Their aim was to produce low-cost, portable ventilators which would be added to a national stockpile at a price less than $4,000 each. To date, not one of the Trilogy Evo Universal devices is in the stockpile. Instead, the devices, which were produced using public investment money and which received FDA approval last year, have been sold overseas for a higher price.

December 2016 NSC completes its national “pandemic playbook,” including the established test, trace and treat methodology. The Trump Administration would ignore it.

May 2017 Trump pushes massive cuts to scientific research, medical research, disease prevention programs. The National Cancer Institute would be hit with a $1 billion cut compared to its 2017 budget. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would see a $575 million cut, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would see a reduction of $838 million. The administration would cut the overall National Institutes of Health budget from $31.8 billion to $26 billion.

The National Science Foundation, which dispenses grants to a variety of scientific research endeavors, would be trimmed $776 million, an 11 percent cut. NSF had not been mentioned in the administration’s earlier budget outline, the so-called “skinny budget,” which was released in March. Congress would reject these cuts, but the budget reflects the Administration’s priorities, which they would achieve through other means.

May 19, 2017 After a wider federal hiring freeze was allowed to expire in April, it was reimposed on the Centers for Disease Control and NIH, leaving nearly 700 positions unfilled at the CDC alone.

“Several [unfilled] positions are in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, which regulates some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria and viruses and manages the nation’s stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures.”

May 8, 2018 After failing to get the deeper cuts to the CDC and NIH budgets he’d requested, Trump uses rescission to eliminate the Complex Crisis Fund, a small budget maintained by the State Department which was key to the 2014 Ebola response.

May 2018 Leaders of the White House pandemic response team are fired and not replaced.

From The Washington Post at the time: “Collectively, warns Jeremy Konyndyk, who led foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Obama administration, “What this all adds up to is a potentially really concerning rollback of progress on U.S. health security preparedness.”

“It seems to actively unlearn the lessons we learned through very hard experience over the last 15 years,” said Konyndyk, now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “These moves make us materially less safe. It’s inexplicable.”

July 2019 Trilogy Evo Universal respirators, produced by Philips with federal investment for the purpose of replenishing a national stockpile of respirators, wins FDA approval for sale. Not one of the devices have yet been contributed to the national stockpile, but many have been sold overseas for a huge markup.

September 2019 White House Council of Economic Advisors warns of the devastating potential impact of a flu-like pandemic. There is no evidence that their warnings were even read, much less taken seriously.

HHS ordered 10,000 of the Trilogy Evo Universal ventilators from Respironics for the Strategic National Stockpile at a cost of $3,280 each, due in the summer of 2020. They have not been delivered, but are being sold internationally for as much as $17,000 each.

October 2019 USAID program for infectious disease tracking is shut down. The program included an effort aimed at detecting virulent coronaviruses.

January 3, 2020 In a CDC briefing with their Chinese colleagues, the Administration gets its notice of a pandemic outbreak.

January 9, 2020 Trump hosts a campaign rally in Ohio.

January 11, 2020 German lab ships the first globally available COVID-19 test.

January 14, 2020 Trump hosts a campaign rally in Wisconsin.

January 17, 2020 First public CDC briefing on the virus. Screening put in place for travelers, but only those coming from Wuhan.

January 18, 2020 Alex Azar finally gets an audience with Trump to warn him of COVID-19 threat. The President interrupted him to ask when sales of flavored vaping products would resume.

January 19, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

January 20, 2020 First COVID-19 cases in the US and S Korea.

January 22, 2020 Trump explains in public remarks that, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

January 24, 2020 Trump tweet praising Chinese President Xi

On the same day, a classified Senate briefing is delivered by Administration officials for 14 Senators, on 2 committees. Two of them, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, begin selling stocks on that classified information while telling the public that all is well.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 2/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 2/0

January 27, 2020 South Korea’s equivalent of the CDC organizes a meeting with pharmaceutical companies to coordinate work on a test regimen.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 5/0

January 28, 2020 Trump hosts campaign rally in New Jersey.

HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, publicly references the established pandemic playbook which the admin then failed to follow:
“The playbook for responding to an infectious disease outbreak is relatively simple: You identify cases, isolate the people, diagnose them, and treat them.”
He also stated that he was briefing the President daily.

Senator Schumer asks the HHS to issue an emergency declaration, which would have freed up $85 million for preparations. Azar complies three days later

January 29, 2020 President announces formation of task force. Places Pence in charge.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 5/0

January 30, 2020 Trump tells the public, “We think we have it very well under control.

Trump holds campaign rally in Iowa.

January 31, 2020 Travel from China suspended, but only for foreign nationals. To this date (4/4), international flights continue, with only limited restrictions for foreign nationals.

Azar invokes Public Health Emergency, requiring all COVID-19 tests be cleared by the FDA. This measure is meant to prevent the emergence of fraudulent or exploitative testing schemes. However, when implemented without any alternative plan, it creates a bottleneck in which only the CDC’s labs are authorized to conduct tests. Inexplicably, the agency under Redfield’s direction publishes stringent limits on who would be permitted to receive a test.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: –
Daily Tests Conducted US: –

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 11/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 7/0

February 1, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

February 2, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

Trump falsely claims to have “shut down” travel from China with a Jan. 31 order. In fact, travel continued, with limited restrictions only applied to non-citizens. More than 400,000 people would travel to the US from China in the weeks to follow, and to date (4/4) no travel ban has been implemented.

Later than night Trump appears on Hannity, explaining:
“Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”

February 3, 2020 South Korea approves its first COVID-19 test for public use.

February 4, 2020 FDA’s first published Emergency Use Approval on COVID-19 further restricts testing, severely limiting testing capability and constraining providers only to the single available (flawed) CDC test.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 178
Daily Tests Conducted US: 93

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 16/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 11/0

February 5, 2020 Passengers and crew of the cruise ship, Diamond Princess, including more than 400 Americans, are quarantined in harbor at Yokohama, Japan after a passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19. 20% of the passengers would test positive. Half were asymptomatic. Nine passengers would eventually die.

February 10, 2020 Trump brags “We’re in great shape…we only have 11 cases and they’re all getting better,” and “it will go away in April.” Regarding China and COVID, “And I think they’re doing a good job on that, on the virus. I had a long talk with President Xi — for the people in this room — two nights ago, and he feels very confident.”

Trump holds campaign rally in New Hampshire.

A former CDC official working at the Gates Foundation reaches out to the CDC seeking approval for local researchers with the Gates-funded Seattle Flu Study to perform tests. The CDC bars them from performing tests.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 436
Daily Tests Conducted US: 38

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 27/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 11/0

February 12, 2020 Originally scheduled date for the President’s annual intelligence briefing on national security threats. The briefing was cancelled and not rescheduled.

From Time: The final draft of the report remains classified but the two officials who have read it say it contains warnings similar to those in the last installment, which was published on January 29, 2019. The 2019 report warns on page 29 that, “The United States will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,445
Daily Tests Conducted US: 58

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 56/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 12/0

February 15, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

February 18, 2020 Tomas Philipson, acting chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers explains, “I don’t think corona is as big a threat as people make it out to be.”

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,094
Daily Tests Conducted US: 42

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 31/0
Known Cases/Deaths US: 13/0

February 19, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Arizona.

February 20, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Colorado.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 1,750
Daily Tests Conducted US: 59

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 111/1
Known Cases/Deaths US: 15/0

February 21, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in Nevada.

February 24, 2020 Dow Jones drops 3.5%.

February 25, 2020 The Dow opens higher, recovering most of its Monday losses. Then, CDC career official, Nancy Messonnier breaks with the Administration, delivering a stark warning that community spread in the US was inevitable. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow scrambles to contradict the CDC, explaining “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” but a massive selloff begins. The Dow Jones drops another 3% from Monday’s collapse, and the stock market rout begins.

Up to this date, almost all official testing was forced to go through the CDC, creating an increasingly challenging bottleneck. Only 12 labs had been granted the right to perform tests. Seattle researcher, Dr Helen Chu, defies a federal testing ban to perform COVID testing on Seattle residents. She identifies cases of local transmission. On a call with the FDA and CDC to report her findings they order her to cease and desist. After reviewing old samples, they find local transmissions going back to at least Feb 20.

A Trump campaign spokesman on Fox News claims, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”

February 26, 2020 The CDC and FDA relent under pressure and allow the Seattle lab to perform tests.

Trump explains at a press conference “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

S Korea opens its first drive-through testing centers, processing hundreds of test a day, free of charge. Results are texted to the patient the next day.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 9,411
Daily Tests Conducted US: 109

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 977/12
Known Cases/Deaths US: 60/0

February 27, 2020 “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” Trump explains at a White House meeting with African American leaders.

February 28, 2020 The FDA agrees to loosen rules, allowing research labs to develop and perform tests.

Rush Limbaugh explains to his dwindling audience that coronavirus is just the common cold, and “I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump.” and “It’s probably is a ChiCom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized.” White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, dismisses concerns over coronavirus in a speech to CPAC, explaining “they think this will bring down the president; that’s what this is all about.” At least one attendee would test positive for the virus, which he was carrying at the conference.

That night, Trump held a campaign rally in South Carolina. He repeated the same line Limbaugh used, claiming that the coronavirus is the Democrats’ “new hoax.”

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 12,950
Daily Tests Conducted US: 266

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 2,337/16
Known Cases/Deaths US: 63/0

February 29, 2020 “Everything is really under control,” Trump claimed in a speech at the CPAC conference outside Washington, D.C.

March 2, 2020 Trump holds a campaign rally in North Carolina.

A funeral in Albany, GA would become a “super-spreader event,” the first large-scale rural outbreak of COVID-19.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 12,606
Daily Tests Conducted US: 656

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 4,335/
Known Cases/Deaths US: 100/6

March 3, 2020 Tweet from President dismissing the risk of COVID-19.

CDC lifts its previous restrictions limiting who could receive a test. It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re so far behind the demand for tests at this point that this change has little impact. What had been a bottleneck caused by testing rules becomes a bottleneck driven by chaos and lack of preparation. By the end of March there would be a backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested specimens, with test results sometimes taking more than a week. The delay is a result of unqualified and unprepared private, for-profit labs accepting tests on a scale that they cannot process. By March 25, Quest Diagnostics alone (NYSE: DGX) maintained a backlog of 160,000 untested samples, almost half of the total samples it had accepted.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 16,260
Daily Tests Conducted US: 867

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 5,186/32
Known Cases/Deaths US: 124/9

March 6, 2020 Trump makes a lengthy appearance at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, combining with his bootlicking, incompetent lackeys to spin up a shit tornado of disinformation, confusion and black comedy. It’s difficult to capture the depth of the incompetence displayed at this press conference in a summary, so please forgive the length of this verbatim recitation.

Trump explained, contrary to all evidence that, “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” He continued, “the testing has been amazing, actually. What they’ve been able to produce in such a short period of time. You had mentioned 4 million tests before — 4 million?

Alex Azar answers: “Up to 4 million tests available in the United States by the end of next week.” That was a simple lie.

Robert Redfield then lied about the extent of the threat, “I would say that — again, what I said before that — that, at the present time, the general risk to the American public remains low.”

A reporter asked, “You could have just used The WHO’s test. Why did you choose to start from scratch when it would be a longer process?”

Lots of words, no answer

Trump digs in a little deeper, claiming, “Just so you understand it’s all performing perfectly”

Redfield piles on, “But it’s not as if we have multiple, multiple — hundreds and hundreds of clusters around the United States.” In fact, we already did, with confirmed cases stretching from coast to coast. He was lying.

Alex Azar tried to “unskew” the mortality rate, claiming it was is less than 1%.

Trump, jumps again to pimp Fox News, “As of the time I left the plane with you, we had 240 cases. That’s at least what was on a very fine network known as Fox News. And you love it. But that’s what I happened to be watching. And how was the show last night? Did it get good ratings, by the way?”

Trump, again in a quote, “I didn’t know people died from the flu.” He then claims that the mortality rate might be as low as .1%.

About his campaign rallies a reporter asked, “Isn’t it a risk if there’s that many people close together.” Trump answers that, “It doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t bother them at all.”

Regarding a quarantined cruise ship, Trump admits he doesn’t want the passengers brought to shore because he thinks it will influence the published statistics, “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship…If they take them off all of a sudden your 240 is obviously going to be a much higher number.”

Then, in the quote that should be placed on his tombstone, Trump reminds everyone that he is the smartest guy in every room. “I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.”

Redfield then summarizes the catastrophic and deadly error he made in his response to this crisis, “I mean, we’re not blind where this virus is right now in the United States. And we need to focus our resources right now where we know this virus is circulating substantially in the community, like certain parts of California, like certain parts of Seattle. That’s where we need to put our focus.” He was lethally wrong.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 18,199
Daily Tests Conducted US: 1,922

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 6,593/43
Known Cases/Deaths US: 319/15

March 7, 2020 Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

“No, I’m not concerned at all. No, we’ve done a great job with it,” Trump said, when asked by reporters if he was concerned about the arrival of the coronavirus in the Washington, D.C., area.

At a dinner with the President of Brazil, Trump insists that his campaign rallies will continue. One of his guests at the dinner would test positive for the coronavirus.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,499
Daily Tests Conducted US: 1,639

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,041/48
Known Cases/Deaths US: 435/19

March 8, 2020 A Pentecostal church in Arkansas launches another rural COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in dozens of infections and several deaths so far.

Trump plays golf at his West Palm Beach club.

March 9, 2020 Fox News is in full denial mode, downplaying the disease, entertaining conspiracy theories, and telling their audience to disregard warnings. Host, Trish Regan, leads off her show with an infographic that reads, “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.” She claimed that “this is just another attempt to impeach the President.”

March 10, 2020 OMB acting Director Russ Vought appears before Congress to defend Trump’s proposal to cut another 15% from the CDC’s budget, including another $35m slashed from the Infectious Disease Rapid Response.

Trump dismisses concerns at a meeting with GOP Senators, “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

Law signed that allows industrial producers to sell N95 masks to health care providers. HHS issues contracts to obtain another 500 million face masks.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,526
Daily Tests Conducted US: 3,527

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,513/60
Known Cases/Deaths US: 937/30

March 11, 2020 A handful of drive-through testing centers open in the US. They can process a few dozen patients a day.

March 13, 2020 Regarding the crisis, Trump insists, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Fox News continues to play down the crisis. A Fox morning host urged people to get out and travel, “it’s actually the safest time to fly.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 13,649
Daily Tests Conducted US: 6,663

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 7,979/67
Known Cases/Deaths US: 2,183/48

March 15, 2020 The CDC issues its first official guidance urging the closing of most public places, including restaurants and requesting that gatherings larger than 10 people be postponed.

Republicans all over the country mock the CDC guidance by posting pictures of themselves defying the request. Oklahoma Gov. Stitt shares a picture of his family in a crowded restaurant. Devin Nunes goes on Fox News urging people to “go to your local pub.” Former Milwaukee Sheriff and RNC headliner David Clarke warned that the CDC’s advice was a plot to extend “government control” and followers should “take to the streets.”

March 16, 2020 The Dow Jones drops almost 13%, largest single-day decline in its history.

The Supreme Court delayed arguments in the Trump tax return cases, which were set to be heard on March 31. No new date has been set. There was no need for the Court to hear the case at all. Thanks to their decision, we are unlikely to see those returns before the election, which means we are unlikely now to ever see them at all.

San Francisco issues a stay at home order for residents.

March 18, 2020 GM’s CEO Mary Barr notifies the White House of plans to mass-produce ventilators. They are partnering with medical device manufacturer, Ventec, to increase their production 100-times by the middle of April. Thus begins one of the strangest sub-stories from the epidemic.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 8,931
Daily Tests Conducted US: 20,629

Cases/Deaths S Korea: 8,431/84
Cases/Deaths US: 1896/150

March 19, 2020 Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson explains that it’s a mistake to shut down the economy just because “no more than 3.4%” of the population might die.

March 20, 2020 New York Presbyterian alone is going through 40,000 N95 masks a day. The downstate region is using roughly 3 million masks a week.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issues a statewide stay at home order.

March 22, 2020 Trump tweets that GM and Tesla are “being given the go ahead to make ventilators.”

March 23, 2020 GM designates a Kokomo, IN plant as the site for producing ventilators. This upsets Trump, who needs to fulfill a campaign promise in Ohio.

Texas’ Republican Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick makes a public appeal to let America’s elderly and vulnerable populations fend for themselves in order to keep the economy healthy.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 6,256
Daily Tests Conducted US: 54,131

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 8,961/111
Known Cases/Deaths US: 44,183/555

March 25, 2020 Without explanation, the White House cancels the announcement of the GM/Ventec project and says that there will be no contract. GM agrees to proceed anyway.

Jared Kushner insists that New York Governor Cuomo was being unreasonable in claiming to need tens of thousands of ventilators. “I have all this data about ICU capacity. I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.”

The Canadian Prime Minister announces availability of a US$1400/benefit available to anyone who has lost income due to COVID-19. Benefits are funded for up to four months, and the first payments should begin by April 10.

March 26, 2020 Trump cancels the deal with GM to produce ventilators. The Administration explained that it was concerned about the $1bn price tag, roughly $12K each, which is about the going market value. Turns out, that’s not the real reason.

In his White House briefing the President complains that there aren’t enough ventilators because of Obama’s negligence, “The ventilators, obviously they take a little longer to make, but we have a lot of companies making them and we’re going to be in great shape. We took over an empty shelf.

Later the same day, Trump claims on the Hannity show that New York doesn’t need the ventilators that Gov. Cuomo is requesting. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Also “A lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need.”

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 7,046
Daily Tests Conducted US: 97,806

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,241/131
Known Cases/Deaths US: 85,356/1,295

March 27, 2020 President signs $2 trillion stimulus bill. Democrats fought to include a provision banning Trump’s businesses from receiving bail-out funds. In a signing statement, Trump asserted the power to ban the Inspector General from disclosing information about payments made under the bill, freeing him to pay himself from public funds without oversight.

Trump explains that he hasn’t helped governors who haven’t been sufficiently “appreciative” toward him. To quote:

“When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA, it’s not right…I say, ‘Mike [Pence], don’t call the governor of Washington; you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.’ You know what I say: ‘If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.’”

Trump posts tweet insulting GM CEO and insisting that GM should produce the ventilators at the shuttered Lordstown plant they no longer own. Ventec and GM go ahead with announcement.

Trump insinuates, without any evidence, that GM was trying to gouge the government on prices. Asked for an explanation, he goes on an incoherent rant, “I was extremely unhappy with Lordstown, Ohio. They left Lordstown in the middle of an auto boom…Frankly, I think that would be a good place to build the ventilators”

This situation is worthy of a bit more explanation.

Trump went to Youngstown in July 2017 and promised the crowd that he’d get the Lordstown GM plant reopened. “They’re all coming back. They’re all coming back. They’re coming back. Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.” Like the Sioux Ghost-Dancers, worshiping Trump was supposed to bring back the dead. That didn’t happen. Across three years of a booming economy, and before the crash last month, manufacturing employment was up less than 1%. GM never reopened Lordstown.

This has consistently bothered Trump, who has lashed out at GM’s CEO personally

Instead of ramping up production, GM dumped the Lordstown plant in 2019 on a struggling EV startup, called Workhorse for a piddling $20m. Workhorse is strapped for cash, so GM financed the entire purchase for them. Workhorse needs to raise another $300m to start operations. In a facility that once employed 12,000 people, Workhorse hopes to maybe eventually to employee 400, assuming they are able to land a bunch of government contracts, because no one else wants what they are talking about making.

So basically, Trump sabotaged a promising effort to build ventilators because GM failed to help him with a project to win a key state.

USNS Mercy arrives in Los Angeles to provide hospital services.

March 28, 2020 Gun lobbyists persuade the White House to define gun shops as “essential” businesses allowed to remain open.

Trump issues a vague threat of a travel ban on the NYC area, sparking panic. He retracts the statement a few hours later.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 10,964
Daily Tests Conducted US: 109,071

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,478/144
Known Cases/Deaths US: 122,653/2,220

March 29, 2020 Respironics, the Philips subsidiary that contracted to provide respirators to the national stockpile back in 2019 still hadn’t delivered them.

The stockpile is “still awaiting delivery of the Trilogy Evo,” a Health and Human Services spokeswoman said. “We do not currently have any in inventory, though we are expecting them soon.”

Instead of accelerating their delivery timeline, Respironics is negotiating with Jared Kushner to deliver a much more expensive model to hospitals.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 6,216
Daily Tests Conducted US: 95,647

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 9,583/152
Known Cases/Deaths US: 143,491/2,583

March 30, 2020 USNS Comfort arrives in New York City to provide hospital services.

March 31, 2020 Trump finally acknowledges that the death toll might be significant, floating 200,000 dead as a possible best case.

April 2, 2020 Without explanation, Jared Kushner, whose application for a security clearance was denied, delivers the White House press conference on COVID-19. He claimed that NYC only received a relief supply of masks after Trump received a call from “friends.” Kushner claims he then arranged a shipment.

Weekly jobless claims soared to a staggering 6.6m. In two weeks the economy has lost more than 10m jobs.

Defense Department strips Capt. Brett Crozier, commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt of his post. Crozier had sent a letter to his superiors pleading for assistance for his crew. That letter was leaked to the press. More than a hundred sailors on board have tested positive for COVID-19.

The President of the United States is leaning on a foreign bank, Deutsche Bank, and the government of Palm Beach County Florida, to delay his debt obligations.

Daily Tests Conducted S Korea: 16,585
Daily Tests Conducted US: 117,698

Known Cases/Deaths S Korea: 10,062/174
Known Cases/Deaths US: 244,877/6,070


Resources for raw data: tests performed by country


  1. So, now that the tyrant has fired the IG and stated that he will ignore any oversight on the 2 trillion, what is the over-under on how much he steals?

    I am thinking about 30 billion, plus at least that much for cronies.

    You really have to hand it to the loser party. They keep believing that “this time, we have boxed in the tyrant and his regime with iron-clad rules.” They make Charlie Brown look like the sharpest guy around.

    1. Critical as our House majority is, it’s not omnipotent – and the executive branch, by its very nature, is the effective overseer and executor of laws passed by Congress. There was never any fiscal stimulus that Trump wouldn’t try to dig his lemur paw hands into.

      You want to change that? Find one more person to get to the polls in November.

      1. LOL…still operating under the fantasy there will be an election, let alone an election that matters, in Nov. The fascists in Wisconsin, with the help of SCOTUS, yesterday laid out the plan IF there is even an “election” in Nov.

        The tyrant has won every battle of significance since he rolled into the White House. You seriously think that is suddenly going to change?

        The u.s. is a dictatorship now. No one wants to admit it, but if a poly sci class, as a case study, without all the media noise. looked at all the actions that Individual X and his regime has done, they would conclude it is a dictatorship.

      2. With respect to that “the tyrant has won every battle of significance” shtick, I don’t have the time to go through every conceivable rebuttal – but I will point out that we had an election in 2018 that, contrary to Trump and the Republicans’ best efforts, saw them get their political butts shellacked worse than they’ve seen in a generation.

        Dins, set aside your hellscape-tinged glasses for a moment. Momentary ratfuckery in Wisconsin aside, we’ve won plenty of victories and still have an honest chance to win in November.

        Stop wasting your time whining and think about what to do next.

      3. Ryan…yeah, taking back the House…how has that worked out so far?
        How has that slowed down the tyrant one iota?

        One thing that this regime has proven: If you control the White House, SCOTUS, and the Senate, the House is irrelevant. It has also proven just how fragile democracy was in the u.s., now that is gone.

        Let’s examine this “election” in Nov.
        For it to be normal, one of two conditions must be met:
        1. Covid-19 must be completely eradicated, with no surges like we see of the normal flu in the fall.
        2. The vast majority of the american electorate must be immunized.

        Both those conditions are impossible. Ask any reputable public health expert. Now the option is write-in ballots. Politico just published an article on what happens in that scenario, and we witnessed the fascist’s playbook on that with Wisconsin.

        The one thing that the Politico article did not discuss is the fact that the regime can work with its cult members on the state level to delay sending write-in ballots to blue areas in swing states, thereby nullifying any votes in those areas, and guaranteeing states like Florida and Michigan remain red.

        And Biden today was arguing why there must be an Nov election. The very fact that he is arguing for it proves there is a movement to delay it / wipe it out entirely.

        The u.s is now controlled by a dictatorial regime. You keep denying it, pinning all your hopes on a election that is fixed. Take off your hope-filled glasses and take a hard look at what has happened since the Kentucky monster beat Obama with the SCOTUS seat.

      4. >] “One thing that this regime has proven: If you control the White House, SCOTUS, and the Senate, the House is irrelevant. It has also proven just how fragile democracy was in the u.s., now that is gone.

        Meanwhile on Earth 2, Kevin McCarthy is Speaker McCarthy and Devin Nunes is still Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

        But sure, Dins, keep saying Democrats controlling the House doesn’t mean anything. You keep doing you.

        All that aside, while you’ve all but given up, Wisconsinites are standing in line for hours on end (fighting the wind and the rain) and refusing to let shameless Republican efforts beat them down.

        Oh, and absentee ballots are going to total anywhere from 900K to 1 *million*, which is NUTS for a state like WI.

  2. So a question for this group:

    The tyrant has cut off shipments of N95 masks to Canada and Latin America. He confirmed that in his press conference yesterday. The raw material (pulp) comes from Canada, is shipped to 3M, then the finished product shipped all over the hemisphere.

    Instead of doing nothing, what if Trudeau had stated “Canada has now decided to divert the raw materials for N95 masks to Canadian plants capable of making the masks, and we will then ship any extra masks to the rest of the hemisphere. Oh, and as a major precaution, we can no longer allow the 1500-2000 nurses and other Canadian health care workers to drive from Windsor to Detroit hospitals they work at and come back back every day, potentially importing the virus”.

    What would be a suitable response by the tyrant and his regime?

      1. Nope. Just tweeting. And 3M is responding in kind, exactly as they should, with passive aggressive assurances that sound compliant and mean nothing. “We look forward to working with FEMA to implement yesterday’s order.” All they need to do is let a single news cycle pass and they can carry on as normal.

      2. It was pointed out on another site that Novartis paid Michael Cohen $1.2M for “access” to trump. Novartis is the pharmaceutical company that manufactures hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, the drugs trump has been touting as Covid treatments. His administration just spent $29M of taxpayer money to stockpile these drugs for Covid treatment. Dr Fauci stated thede drugs are not proven for effective Covid treatment. Obviously, trump is betting (with taxpayer money) that they do, and, by stockpiling millions of dollars worth of these drugs, he is contributing to a serious shortage of these drugs which treat many other serious health conditions
        The Food and Drug Administration has not approved these drugs as an effective treatment for the covid-19 virus and there is little medical evidence so far that they works for this purpose at all. Yet, trump hawks these drugs daily in his press meetings.

        Novartis is the big winner with free, daily presidential advertising, depleted inventory, stock price increases, and fast-track, emergency use authorization testing approval even though these drugs
        lack clinical evidence of effectiveness.

        I hope these drugs work but I abhor the gaudy, inappropriate hawking by the president, a man whose disdain for science disqualified him from offering an opinion, much less investing $29M of taxpayer funds.

        Let science work independently!

        A peek at trump’s investment portfolio would be nice.

    1. ThecAP reports that the federal government did not begin placing bulk orders for critical N-95 masks, ventilators and other necessary medical supplies until mid- march. Bear in mind that the administration knew of the Chinese pandemic in December and received a security briefing early January. Whether the reason was due to incompetence, inexperience, or denial of reality, doesn’t matter to doctors and nurses and hospitals who are trying to save lives, and exposing themselves and their loved ones to this virus. These horrid little facts are emerging not at rhe White House press conferences, but through diligent, persistent research by our media. Subscribe.

  3. Outstanding Chris, how are you doing, from one cancer survivor to another, wishing you the best.

    A lot to chew on in this post and as it has been said, the cult will not be dismayed. No amount of explicit evidence will convince the true believers, they are at the point where their wrist could be split and bleeding and denying it as they take their last gasp of breath while bleeding out.

    1. Doing well. Had one very small mass appear in a lung. Being treated with targeted radiation. No side effects and very little inconvenience. It was likely there all along. Otherwise, more than two years from initial diagnosis with no new growth. A pretty fine outcome so far.

  4. EJ

    American influenza death statistics have jumped +7.4% year on year, an enormous number; there are widespread allegations by medical staff that coronavirus deaths are being classified as influenza or other respiratory diseases due to people in hospital dying before they can be tested. As such, the real death toll may be significantly higher, and indeed may never be known.

    1. Does anyone know where to find overall mortality statistics for either the US or Italy that would be up to date for the past few months? All I can find are long-term stats. Nothing current.

      When this is all over, I think researchers will measure the real impact of this disease by comparing the background mortality rate in the first half of 2020 to the long-term baseline mortality rate. Given the failure to develop a testing regimen, that’s going to be the only reliable indicator of how far this spread, how fast, and how early.

      1. I am following a thread on another site that is looking at origin of these viruses. Dr Fauci’s was quoted as saying Chinas “wet market” should be closed. Other noted (lots of science folks commenting), that this specific area in China is attributed as the origin of many of the world’s pandemics.

        This citation was offered and I believe it will be of interest in your quest for data compilation.

      2. Hi Chris,
        the CDC used to release that data monthly via their Morbidity/Mortality report. Academic Med Center personnel used to get it via email…haven’t seen one in three years.

        I have only had success looking for annual reports now via the links above.
        In addition to the rats nest of covid19 test results is the new morbidity reporting problem. How many deaths since December 19 listed as pneumonia or pneumonia as a complication is actually a covid19 death?

        Some of that discussion can also be seen on the the second link.

        The most comprehensive data I’ve found uploaded daily of positive cases and deaths is this one from JHU if you navigate at the top you see links to data sources WHO, CDC, Public Health Agencies and other gov/non-gov sources. I fear the counts in the south and midwest of the US are grossly understated as they are underserved by public health agencies.

        We have underfunded CDC for so long that the UW link Mary shared and this JHU site are being used by public health professionals. Kinda proud as a UW alum…Go Huskies!
        Thank you for the amazing and well researched timeline. Amazing and sad. The current administration won’t be happy till all our federal agencies operate at the caliber of Mississippi.

        Just an aside, I live in Hell’s Kitchen (midtown West Manhattan)…its a ghost town.

      3. Take care Koctya. Thanks for the information. Governor Cuomo has been an inspiring leader. Would that America had someone like him a national coordinator. I get more from substance about covid-19 in his morning chats rather than the president’s.

      4. Hey Chris,
        You probably have already read this, but one small analysis in Italy suggests the excess mortality there implies 3-4x the reported deaths from CV19. Of course some of the extra deaths will be other causes like heart attacks who couldn’t/wouldn’t go the hospital, but in a very real sense, it’s all attributable to the pandemic.

        >When this is all over, I think researchers will measure the real impact of this disease by comparing the background mortality rate in the first half of 2020 to the long-term baseline mortality rate.

        Researchers will *definitely* do that. But it won’t be reported on Fox News if it makes Idiot Amin look bad.

      5. Covid case statistics are going to be spotty. Trump isn’t going to let data get in the way of his plans to reopen government. Watch governors of red states fall in line. TX Governor Abbott is sending out signals that he plans to reopen the state because TX infection and death rates are so low. Less than1% of TX residents have been tested which, of course, conveniently justifies his decision.

      1. Here’s a new online resource that has been launched that will provide an interactive platform for doctors who are treating covid-19 and patients who are experiencing the virus. A team of medical students has created this interactive tool in recognition that uncertainty is real and creating fear and wrong choices.
        These students are “working with board certified physicians crowdsourcing information on the characteristics, symptoms, and presentation of COVID-19. Healthcare personnel are struggling with the variable presentations and course of COVID-19, and… relying on the experiences of each other to address it. This data will enable researchers and healthcare workers on the front line to have access to the most up-to-date information on the illness.”

        Click & Share: [](

  5. Truly a ton of solid work there Chris. Really impressive reporting.

    Guess you can do another one in 4 or 5 months from now when the elections are delayed or cancelled, because of the second (or 3rd or 4th) surge in the virus.

    I am waiting to see which country is the first to create “immunity certificates” for people to re-enter the work force.

  6. Chris, you forgot the part where Reagan ignored AIDS for years because it mainly affected gay people. He has blood on his hands and doesn’t deserve to be considered a hero.

    Especially when his administration referred to AIDS as the ‘Gay Plague’, and he himself encouraged abstinence:

    1. The “Reagan killed gay people” canard reminds of the people who cherry-pick a few quotes to declare that Lincoln was a racist. The problem with the Lincoln thing is that virtually everybody was a racist. Did Reagan have a negative attitude toward homosexuals? Since we’re talking about an old white man in the mid-80’s, I would assume the answer is yes. Was he particularly homophobic? No. He didn’t seem to have much interest in the subject.

      Can you find any other leading political figures who were more responsive to the AIDS threat, whose response was less tinged with homophobia? Perhaps, by looking real hard. Dianne Feinstein stands out, but as Mayor of San Francisco that can be seen as merely political acuity. Ed Koch stands out on the other side, as considerably worse than Reagan. He refused to take any material action as the pandemic spread. And as a closeted gay man his strange homophobia during the crisis is particularly damning.

      And all the Reagan histrionics still has to grapple with the way Reagan backed his very candid and outspoken Surgeon General who was angering religious conservatives with his push for a more aggressive response to AIDS. Koop would eventually play a critical role in bringing bipartisan pressure to bear and getting much overdue government action mobilized.

      To be clear, if America in 1982 been led by a President and a political establishment (it would have taken both) less blinded by homophobic assumptions, AIDS would have been like Zika or West Nile, one of those blips on the radar. America’s failure to treat the HIV pandemic as a matter of importance in the critical first year of the outbreak has cost millions of lives.

      Question is, would any other political leader at the time have mustered the needed response? Would a Carter Administration have had the courage to confront this when necessary? I doubt it.

      A Ted Kennedy Administration might have. There may have been a handful of other contemporary figures who would have been less burdened by the prevailing cultural biases about homosexuality, but not very many. And in fact, Reagan’s Administration moved much faster than the wider culture to cut through those biases, which is what you expect a leader to do. Yes it was a failure, but assigning it all to Reagan is silly.

  7. Hi Chris,

    First off: this may be your magnum opus.  I don’t mean to trivialize the rest of your writing (which I enjoy!) but this kind of side-by-side comparison is exactly what has been lacking from existing media so far.  And it is critical.  Thank you.

    I spotted a typo in the last entry on April 2nd, with the South Korea numbers given with a decimal point instead of comma (presumably a copy-paste issue as the rest of the world does the comma-decimal point thing the opposite way as we do).

    Also, I have two pitches for entries, September 2018:

    And April 2019 (one year ago this month!), in which one Tim Morrison of impeachment drama fame speaks at a biodefense summit about the things that keep him up at night. Guess what it is he worries we are not prepared for? Here’s an excerpt:

    “When I was thinking about my remarks today, I pulled a book off my shelf, “The Great Influenza.” And if you would indulge me for just a minute, there were a couple of lines in here that ring true when I think about what keeps me up at night and what am I really worried about.”

    Your work here today was the read I have been waiting for.  It reminds me of James Fallows’ Time Capsules form the 2016 election cycle – in that the full scope of what’s happening needs to just be seen day-by-day to really let the ramifications sink in.  Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for the edit. I thought about adding new material, then descended down a 45 minute rabbit-hole of potential new adds. It’s just endless. Gotta stop somewhere. But posting new stuff to the comments seems like a good idea. Great way to keep this contemporary.

      1. Yeah, that makes sense. Trying to track down everyone who was warning of the looming problem really is endless… I just saw that George Bush issued a prescient warning back in summer of 2005 – which is what led to that November 2005 report to get the ball rolling. The point being: a huge number of individuals have known and even been working on this going back decades, so any time someone today says “we couldn’t have known” they are full of it.

  8. It must of took a lot of time to do the research for this time line. Thank you Mr. Ladd. I did repost it on FaceBook. But frankly anyone still with Trump is unreachable. But this might motivate some people who are marginal voters to vote this fall . Just as a reminder there is also the religious left. And they probably outnumber the religious right.

    I made my living in a pretty technical field. So science and math were my friend and my main tools dealing with very abstract processes. What you laid out is one reason I left the Republican party. Hostility to science and truth. The biggest reason is the cruelty of the party towards people who are vulnerable. Which includes the fearful ignorant. Their base voters. Who are mainly elderly white people who are especially vulnerable to this virus.

    f we do manage to turn this mess around those people will remain hostile towards us and never will be grateful. And they will fight us every step of the way. But for our kids and grand kids we cannot stop. My hope is as my generation follows the way of all mankind and the young get to voting age this kind of thing will recede into history.

  9. Wow Chris, you really outdid yourself on this one! That’s an impressive summary. Thanks for doing all this research.

    I’m going to quote and reference this a lot on some social media posts since after 8 years of reading, I know your research is solid and I can trust that the information is accurate.

    1. There is a frustrating caveat. The totals for number of tests performed suffers from two glitches. The first is that the CDC divided its figures into two categories across the first few weeks of the disaster, and the meaning of those categories is nowhere adequately explained. I had to just pick one, so I stuck with the one that showed a larger number.

      Second, there’s a delta between tests administered and samples actually tested. It is unclear how the various available sources distinguish between the two. I’m concerned that the testing figures only show collections, failing to distinguish untested samples. The data for this stuff is a rats-nest.

      I need to add the references. Will do that shortly.

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