The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into chaos and confusion, with mixed reports on how it should be handled and if President Donald Trump downplayed the crisis or didn’t react quickly enough to save lives. This is part one in a three-part series summarizing and detailing the events as they unfolded, from the first known case of COVID-19 to the present. Did Trump and other leading officials and experts act appropriately? You be the judge with our extensive timeline and coverage.
Part 1: January 2017 – January 2020
Our timeline begins on Jan. 12, 2017, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases and key member of the White House Coronavirus task force, made a prediction:
“And if there’s one message that I want to leave with you today based on my experience, and you’ll see that in a moment, it is that there is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases, both chronic infectious diseases, in the sense of already ongoing disease, and we have certainly a large burden of that, but also there will be a surprise outbreak.” [emphasis added]
Now we fast forward more than two years to the first known case of COVID-19. The first patient with the virus arrived at Wuhan Central Hospital in China on Dec. 16. Chinese doctor Ai Fen reported it to Dr. Li Wenliang. The doctors conducted tests and reached out to inform the public of the dangerous new virus, which didn’t go over well with the government. Ai and Li were reprimanded and forced to sign a confession stating the information they provided about the virus was false. By the end of December 2019, more than two dozen cases of Coronavirus had been confirmed by Wuhan health officials.
On Dec. 31, China told the World Health Organization (WHO) that it had cases of pneumonia but that it had “found no obvious person-to-person transmission, and no medical personnel have been infected” when in fact, several medical professionals had tested positive. On the same day, Taiwan contacted WHO with an alert, claiming it was possible for the disease to transfer from human to human.
China continued to hide evidence of the virus, according to The Straits Times, which said the Hubei Provincial Health Commission ordered at least one company to stop testing virus samples and to destroy them. In early January 2020, despite the growing number of confirmed Coronavirus cases, an estimated 175,000 people traveled out of Wuhan, spreading the virus across China and the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, the U.S. received its first case of Coronavirus in Washington state from a patient traveling from Wuhan. The CDC took precautions and started screening travelers from Wuhan at San Francisco, New York JFK, and Los Angeles airports.
Wuhan continued to have its annual Lunar New Year banquet, which drew 40,000 families, and China’s President Xi Jinping finally issued a warning about the dangers of the virus in late January. Dr. Fauci announced a vaccine for Coronavirus was already in the works. The very next day, on Jan. 21, he said in an interview that “this is not a major threat for the people in the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was the deciding vote against declaring the outbreak a public health emergency on an international level, while Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “Americans should know that this is a potentially very serious public health threat.”
At the White House, the Trump administration formed a new task force to monitor the virus on Jan. 28, and on Jan. 31, the president restricted travel to and from China. The Department of Homeland Security funneled flights from China into just seven U.S. airports that had the most travelers from the Wuhan area in an attempt to monitor and contain any sign of the virus.
Dr. Li Wenliang, also known as the whistleblower, tested positive for Coronavirus on Jan. 30.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.