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The Ten Weeks That Lost the War: A Timeline of How Trump Lied, Bungled and Screwed America in the COVID-19 Crisis

April 21, 2020
(Illustration by Hannah Yoest / photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

In the social media fog of war it can be easy to lose the thread as to just how the COVID-19 crisis came to our shores and what the Trump administration did and didn’t do to respond.

This timeline provides a look at the key inflection points in the crucial ten-week period where the United States lost the ability to effectively respond to the virus that is causing unprecedented death and economic destruction.

  • Jan. 3, 2020

    CDC is first alerted to a public health event in Wuhan Province, China.

  • Jan. 10, 2020

    Former Trump Advisor: "We face a global health threat...*new* kind of coronavirus. Coordinate!"

    Former Trump Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert urges action on COVID-19.

  • Jan. 18, 2020

    Azar can't get through to Trump to speak with him about the virus until Jan. 18. Trump redirects conversation to vaping.

    Washington Post: Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar struggles to get through to Trump about the threat of COVID;

  • Jan. 20, 2020

    "The first human infection with new coronavirus has been reported in the U.S."


  • Jan. 21, 2020

    "VIRUS" "China virus kills six; 300 infected..."

    Conservative media begins to sound the alarm, with the Drudge Report running “VIRUS” as a banner headline.

  • Jan. 21, 2020

    "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional cases in the United States"

    The CDC’s Nancy Messonnier announces in a briefing that more cases are expected in the United States.

  • Jan. 22, 2020

    "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China."

    On CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Trump dismisses the possibility of a coming pandemic.

  • January 2020

    Intelligence agencies began warning Trump Admin that China wasn't being honest about the scale of the crisis as early as January.

  • Jan. 24, 2020

    "The US greatly appreciates China's efforts and transparency. I want to thank President Xi!"

    Trump tweets a thanks to China and President Xi “on behalf of the American people”

  • Jan. 27, 2020

    Joe Biden: Short-sighted Trump has left us unprepared for a dangerous epidemic

    Biden op-ed on how Trump’s actions have hampered the U.S. ability to respond to coronavirus.

  • Jan. 28, 2020

    Former Trump Admin Officials: "Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic"

    Scott Gottlieb and Luciana Borio op-ed in the Wall Street Journal offer 4-point plan to prepare for COVID-19

  • Jan. 28, 2020

    Trump Admin Public Health Officials Begin Dire "Red Dawn" Email Chain discussing threat.

  • Jan. 29, 2020

    Multiple news reports published on the need to address mask hoarding and shortages.

    PPE Shortages: New York Times, The Atlantic

  • Jan. 29, 2020

    GOP Senator Tom Cotton Privately Warns Trump About Coronavirus Threat

    From National Review article on the Senator who saw the virus coming.

  • Feb. 2, 2020

    "Well we pretty much shut it down coming in from China...Getting along with China. Getting along with Russia."

    In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump dismisses any threat from COVID-19.

  • Feb. 2, 2020

    The Trump administration restricts travel from China for immigrants and noncitizens.

    This was not a travel ban as Trump claims. Americans continue to fly between the countries.

  • Feb. 3, 2020

    “If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States”

    Public health officials around the world prepare for “social distancing” measures.

  • Feb. 3, 2020

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson begins covering COVID seriously after a friend with "access to intelligence" informs him of the extent of the threat.

  • Feb. 4, 2020

    "It’s time to start testing more people, even if they haven’t visited China or been in contact with someone infected"

    In the Wall Street Journal, Former Trump Officials Scott Gottlieb & Luciana Borio urge the administration to expand testing, provide more protective equipment, and accelerate vaccine development.

  • Feb. 5, 2020

    HHS Secretary Alex Azar requests $2 billion for respirator masks and other supplies. Trump officials balk, wait weeks, then ask for only $500 million.

  • Feb. 5, 2020

    "Just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus. Bottom line: they aren't taking this seriously enough...Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now."

  • Feb. 7, 2020

    Mike Pompeo announces that the Trump Administration is sending 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China.

  • Feb. 10, 2020

    “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in.”

    At a White House press conference, Trump suggests that COVID will go away as the weather gets warmer.

  • Feb. 20, 2020

    Former Trump Officials Gottlieb & Borio urge expanded testing and increased vigilance against COVID.

  • Feb. 23, 2020

    "President Xi loves his country. He’s working very hard to solve the problem and he will solve the problem. Okay?"

  • Feb. 23, 2020

    Harvard School of Public Health official Michael Mina issues a warning on limited COVID tests and the lack of transparency on testing failures.

  • Feb. 24, 2020

    "Coronavirus very much under control...Stock Market starting to look very good to me!"

    Trump Tweet.

    Note: The Dow Jones was at 27,960 that day. It has dropped as low as 18,591.

  • Feb 24, 2020

    "You should seriously consider buying these {stock market} dips."

    Trump’s top economic advisor Larry Kudlow

  • Feb. 24, 2020

    Dr. Robert Kadlec at HHS requests urgent COVID task force meeting with POTUS to provide social distancing recommendations.

    Meeting is cancelled. President did not make social distancing recommendations until 3/16, 21 days later.

  • Feb. 25, 2020

    "Cryin Chuck Schumer is complaining...that I should be asking for more money than $2.5 Billion to prepare for Coronavirus

    Trump requests $1.8-2.5 billion for COVID response, mocks Democrats for saying more is needed.

  • Feb. 25, 2020

    CDC Expert Nancy Messonnier: "Disruption to everyday life might be severe."

    Messonnier warns Americans to start preparing for school and business closures in response to the virus. Trump reportedly shouted at his staffers in response to the warning, complaining that she was scaring people.

  • Feb. 26, 2020

    "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done"

  • Feb. 27, 2020

    "It's gonna disappear one day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear"

  • Feb. 29, 2020

    First COVID-19 death in United States

    A Washington state man in his 50s became the first person to die from COVID in the United States.

  • Mar. 4, 2020

    The Department of Health and Human Services stated that they had only about 1% of the respirators needed for a full-blown pandemic.

  • Mar. 4, 2020

    Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wears gas mask on house floor to mock those expressing concerns about the coming pandemic.

    Within a few days, Gaetz is under quarantine and has one of his constituents die of COVID.

  • Mar. 4, 2020

    "President Xi is working very, very hard in China...Their numbers have gotten much better with respect to the coronavirus, very much better"

    Trump again praises China’s President Xi on his performance fighting COVID.

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    "I’ve heard the numbers are getting much better in China, but I hear the numbers are getting much better in Italy"

    Trump states that the number of COVID cases are going down in both China and Italy.  Note: China has faced widespread skepticism over its reported numbers, and in early March Italy’s cases were beginning to skyrocket.

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    "I like this stuff. I really get it... Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability."

    Trump during a tour of the CDC in Atlanta.

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    “I didn’t know people died from the flu.”

    A Trump remark during a tour of the CDC in Atlanta.

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    “I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault...I'd rather have them stay on, personally.”

    Trump suggests that he doesn’t want Americans sickened by COVID on a cruise to return the United States, because it would make the numbers of infected in the country look worse.

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    “Anybody who wants a test gets a test.”

    Trump lies about test availability during a tour of the CDC in Atlanta. Note: On this date just 1911 tests were conducted in the whole country. 

  • Mar. 6, 2020

    "We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward"

  • Mar. 7, 2020

    Conservative journalist Tucker Carlson flies to Mar-a-Lago to implore Trump to take the coronavirus threat more seriously in private.

  • Mar. 9, 2020

    "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on."

  • Mar. 9, 2020

    "People you voted for have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem. It's definitely not just the flu."

  • Mar. 9, 2020

    "It’s now or never for the U.S. if it hopes to keep coronavirus from burning out of control"

    Tom Bossert, Former Homeland Security advisor for Trump, urges swift and aggressive action against the virus to prevent catastrophe.

  • Mar. 10, 2020

    "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."

    Trump remarks during a press conference.

  • Mar. 10, 2020

    "Viruses that spread like this tend to spread more. In certain communities at-risk people need to listen to social distancing recommendations. "

    CDC official Nancy Messonnier sounds the alarm again.

  • Mar. 10, 2020

    "A looming shortage in lab materials is threatening to delay coronavirus test results and cause officials to undercount the number of Americans with the virus"

    POLITICO reports that US testing is threatened by lab material shortages

  • Mar. 11, 2020

    "Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have contracted the virus. An NBA player has it. Stock market futures plunge again. The NBA season is canceled."

    The scope and severity of the crisis becomes tangible.

  • Mar. 11, 2020

    “If we get rid of the coronavirus problem quickly, we won’t need [economic] stimulus.”

  • Mar. 12, 2020

    House Democrats propose additional economic stimulus to address crisis

  • Mar. 12, 2020

    “The bottom line is it’s going to get worse...the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions"

    Remarks from Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as the US death toll reaches 37.

  • Mar. 13, 2020

    "I don't take responsibility at all."

  • Mar. 20, 2020

    Jared Kushner said it was on this date that he began to "build a team" to address the logistics of the COVID-19 crisis.


Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.