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CDC head claims China was ‘pretty certain’ coronavirus could not pass between humans at the start of the outbreak

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CDC head claims China was ‘pretty certain’ coronavirus could not pass between humans at the start of the outbreak
By Ariel Zilber For Dailymail.com and Associated Press and Reuters
23:57 GMT 27 Mar 2020
Robert Redfield is director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
He told Fox News that China initially thought coronavirus wasn’t contagious
President Trump on Friday tweeted that he spoke with Xi Jinping of China
Xi said he offered the US China’s support in combating the coronavirus
US has become global epicenter of pandemic that started in China
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A top Trump administration official on Friday said China initially claimed that humans were not contagious to the coronavirus before it spread out of control.


‘[They] originally were pretty certain that this was not transmitted human to human,’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told Fox News on Friday.

‘Obviously that became corrected as they saw in the first three, four weeks of January that human-to-human spread was not only occurring, it’s actually as I said more infectious.’

He added: ‘That led to the situation we’re in today.

‘No one could have predicted how transmissive, how infectious this virus really is.’

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said on Friday that China initially thought that the coronavirus wasn’t capable of being transmitted between humans
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said on Friday that China initially thought that the coronavirus wasn’t capable of being transmitted between humans
Early on Friday morning, President Trump tweeted: ‘Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China.

‘Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet.

‘China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus.

‘We are working closely together. Much respect!’

Redfield was also asked on Friday about plans to lift social distancing guidelines in order to restart the collapsing economy.

He replied that lifting the lockdown would not be a ‘one size fits all’ policy.

‘The data is going to be really important,’ he said.

‘There’s many parts of this country that have very limited coronavirus infection right now and as we get certain about that surveillance data, not only in geographic areas, but as mentioned by the government, in different age groups.’

Trump on Friday signed a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that will result in individual checks being sent to Americans, loans going to small businesses and aid for industries hard hit by the coronavirus.

‘We got hit by the invisible enemy and we got hit hard,’ President Trump said during the signing ceremony at the Oval Office.

‘I want to thank Republicans and Democrats for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first.’

The president joked about the package’s trillion dollar price tag.

‘I’ve never signed anything with a T on it,’ he said.

Even though the president called it bipartisan work, he was only surrounded by Republican lawmakers and members of his Cabinet at the signing ceremony.

New Orleans rushed to build a makeshift hospital in its convention center on Friday as troubling new outbreaks bubbled in the United States, deaths surged in Italy and Spain and the world warily trudged through the pandemic that has sickened more than a half-million people.


Punctuating the fact that no one is immune to the new coronavirus, it pierced even the highest echelons of global power, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson becoming the first leader of a major country to test positive.

While New York remained the worst hit city in the U.S., Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome infection numbers being reported in New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

‘We are not through this. We’re not even halfway through this,’ said Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, which has recorded more than 2,700 cases, more than five times what it had a week ago.

The United States became the first country to surpass 100,000 infections on Friday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

In New York, where there are more than 44,000 cases statewide, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 passed 6,000 on Friday, double what it had been three days earlier.

President Trump on Friday tweeted that he had a ‘very good conversation’ with Chinese President Xi Jinping (seen above in Beijing on Thursday)
President Trump on Friday tweeted that he had a ‘very good conversation’ with Chinese President Xi Jinping (seen above in Beijing on Thursday)
‘China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus,’ the president tweeted on Friday
‘China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus,’ the president tweeted on Friday
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for 4,000 more temporary beds across New York City, where the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has already been converted into a hospital.

‘This is going to be weeks and weeks and weeks,’ Cuomo told members of the National Guard working at the Javits Center.

‘This is going to be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day.’

Trump, after earlier rejecting Cuomo’s pleas for tens of thousands more ventilators, and the governor’s calls to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, invoked the law Friday, ordering General Motors to begin manufacturing the breathing machines.

Xi offers Trump help in coronavirus fight as Wuhan reopens to traffic
Xi told Trump on Friday that he would have China’s support in fighting the coronavirus, as Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak emerged, reopened to incoming traffic.

Xi’s offer of assistance follows a war of words between Beijing and Washington over various issues, including the pandemic.

Trump and other US officials have accused Beijing of a lack of transparency over the outbreak, and Trump has referred to coronavirus as the ‘Chinese virus’ because it originated there late last year.
According to an account of the conversation published by the Chinese foreign ministry, Xi reiterated to Trump that China had been open and transparent.

Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a seafood market and which had been on lockdown for more than two months, was open to incoming traffic late on Friday, although cars were not allowed to leave.

A photograph taken on March 27, 2020 shows a general view of the closed Wuhan Changjiang river road and railway tunnel in Wuhan
A photograph taken on March 27, 2020 shows a general view of the closed Wuhan Changjiang river road and railway tunnel in Wuhan
Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, removed border restrictions on Wednesday for all but Wuhan, which will allow people to leave the city starting on April 8.

At a checkpoint entering the city on Friday night, three lanes were open to traffic but there were few cars, with a lone figure in military fatigues standing at each lane checking the mobile phone health codes of arriving passengers.

Along the highway entering the city of 11 million, blue and white signs pointed traffic to the now-closed Huoshenshan Hospital, which was built in eight days and opened in early February and came to symbolize China’s aggressive management of the outbreak after a fumbled early effort.

Other evidence of the outbreak that devastated the city included posters dated Feb. 16 seeking volunteers to help battle the epidemic.

‘Exits out of the city are still shut. We respectfully ask for your understanding,’ one road sign along the highway said.

Numerous people have been trapped inside and outside of Wuhan and Hubei and many of the cars entering the city had Wuhan number plates, indicating they were returning residents.

Confusion, chaos and complacency: Internal emails reveal how the CDC bungled initial response to coronavirus and pleaded ‘help needed urgently’
On February 13, the CDC sent out an email with what the author described as an ‘URGENT’ call for help.

The agency was struggling with one of its most important duties: keeping track of Americans suspected of having the novel coronavirus.

It had ‘an ongoing issue’ with organizing — and sometimes flat-out losing — forms sent by local agencies about people thought to be infected. The email listed job postings for people who could track or retrieve this paperwork.

‘Help needed urgently,’ the CDC wrote.

This email is among hundreds of pages of correspondence between federal and state public health officials obtained by ProPublica through a records request in Nevada.

Leader: Robert Redfield is the director of the CDC. Internal emails uncovered by ProPublic reveal how the agency reacted with confusion and chaos to the threat of coronavirus
Leader: Robert Redfield is the director of the CDC. Internal emails uncovered by ProPublic reveal how the agency reacted with confusion and chaos to the threat of coronavirus
During the period in which the correspondence was written, from January to early March, health officials were trying to stay ahead of the coronavirus outbreak underway in China.
By mid-February, when the CDC job postings email went out, the virus had a toehold in the United States, where there were already 15 confirmed cases.

In another two weeks, the first case of community transmission would be reported in California, followed shortly by cases in Washington.

The documents – mostly emails – provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the messy early stages of the U.S. response to the coronavirus, revealing an antiquated public health system trying to adapt on the fly.

What comes through clearly is confusion, as the CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done.

The same week the CDC sent out the email about the job openings, the agency sent Nevada officials alerts about 80 potential coronavirus patients to monitor, documents show.

Four were not Nevada residents.

Complacency: The CDC’s director Robert Redfield told staff there was ‘low’ risk to the American public and the virus was ‘not spreading.’ But an analysis suggests it was already spreading then
Complacency: The CDC’s director Robert Redfield told staff there was ‘low’ risk to the American public and the virus was ‘not spreading.’ But an analysis suggests it was already spreading then
A state epidemiologist, in each instance, corrected the agency, informing the CDC that the person was from New York, not Nevada. (The CDC then redirected each report to New York, the documents show.)

The confusion sometimes went both ways. On March 4, a program manager in the Nevada Health Department reached out to the CDC to ask about congressional funding for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

‘There seems to be a communications blackout on this end,’ the program manager wrote, wondering if funds would be distributed based on the number of cases in each state or by population.

‘Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to your questions,’ responded a CDC staffer, apologizing for the lack of information. ‘We are hearing all of the rumor mills as well.’

‘Thank you,’ the Nevada program manager replied. ‘It’s good to be confused together.’

CHAOTIC COORDINATION

For much of February, the CDC kept a tight grip on who should be tested for the coronavirus, a strategy that has been criticized by epidemiologists for limiting the ability to track the spread of the disease.

In a February 19 presentation to state health officials, the CDC described the definition of a person who ought to be tested: You had to have had close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, or to have traveled from China and then had respiratory symptoms and a fever at the same time.
However, the CDC’s own guidance from a month prior, distributed to the states on January 17, had a footnote that said that ‘fever may not be present in some patients,’ such as people who had taken fever-lowering medications, according to one of the documents obtained by ProPublica.

That caveat was not on the slides presented to the states in mid-February.

In a statement to ProPublica, the CDC said clinicians could always use their judgment to decide who received a test.

Unfortunate phrase: A Nevada state official asked the CDC for guidance about funding and was told they ‘are hearing rumor mills’ – prompting this response
Unfortunate phrase: A Nevada state official asked the CDC for guidance about funding and was told they ‘are hearing rumor mills’ – prompting this response
‘CDC never declined a request for testing that came from a state or local health department,’ the agency said.

In mid to late February, the CDC was trying to move responsibility for coronavirus testing from itself to state health departments — a critical step, since the CDC does not have the capacity to be the nation’s testing lab.

Slides from the February 19 presentation describe the process for transitioning from ‘Phase 1,’ in which the CDC determined who was a potential COVID-19 patient and conducted all the testing, to ‘Phase 2,’ in which local health departments would do that work and report data back to the CDC.

Because of delays with test kits, Phase 2 had to be ‘redesigned,’ the presentation said, so the CDC would continue to test specimens and return results.

The CDC told ProPublica that all states have now transitioned to the original Phase 2 plan, where they can run their own tests.

Testing fiasco: Because of delays with test kits, Phase 2 had to be ‘redesigned,’ a presentation said, so the CDC would continue to test specimens and return results
Testing fiasco: Because of delays with test kits, Phase 2 had to be ‘redesigned,’ a presentation said, so the CDC would continue to test specimens and return results
The CDC presentation also directed the states to use a web platform called DCIPHER, which the agency was already using for food-related outbreaks, to report potential COVID-19 patients and confirmed cases.

But it wasn’t until the week of Feb. 24 — the same week that the U.S. would discover its first case of community-acquired COVID-19 — that the CDC scheduled a training for states on how to use the platform, according to the documents.

On March 1, the CDC emailed Nevada’s Health Department, requesting that it send a list of users and email addresses to connect to the DCIPHER system, to ‘ensure that we can onboard your jurisdiction.’

‘We sent a spread sheet a couple weeks ago which I thought covered this,’ a state epidemiologist responded.


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Four days later, Nevada announced its first confirmed case of the coronavirus. It’s unclear when the state managed to successfully get on the DCIPHER system. Officials from Nevada declined to comment.

‘MAYBE JUST KIDDING’

A key part of the CDC’s strategy during the early days of the outbreak was identifying infected travelers returning from China.

The process for screening passengers arriving at Los Angeles International Airport did not go smoothly, the correspondence obtained by ProPublica indicates.

On Feb. 16, a CDC staff member sent a message to colleagues about a buggy electronic traveler screening questionnaire that wouldn’t save correctly, among other issues.

Also, the tool’s drop down field auto-populated with ‘United Kingdom’ instead of ‘United States,’ forcing users to type ‘United States of America.’

The CDC staffer also said the agency was struggling to interview non-English speakers in a timely manner and needed additional interpreters.

‘Hello Team,’ another CDC staff member responded, offering a solution: ‘The Google translate App has a real-time voice translation option.’

The screening protocol also wasn’t always clear. On Feb. 29, a CDC officer at LAX sent an email to her colleagues, saying: ‘In case this comes up again, we are not screening private flights.

‘These would be flights that land at LAX but don’t arrive into the regular terminal … mainly for rich people.’

Just over two hours later, the officer emailed again. ‘And, maybe just kidding,’ she wrote. Information from headquarters seemed to contradict what she had said about private flights, she said.

The CDC told ProPublica that it scaled up the screening almost overnight, so it focused on vetting the largest segment possible of high-risk passengers coming from places like Wuhan, China.

The agency trained staff and dealt as best it could with limited staffing and translation services, it said.

The CDC’s initial response to COVID-19, particularly its failure to initiate swift, widespread testing, has drawn intense criticism.

‘PROTECTING AMERICANS IS WHAT WE DO’

Nonetheless, the correspondence ProPublica obtained shows that the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, exuded confidence in communications with others at the agency.

On Jan. 28, when the CDC had confirmed five cases of the coronavirus, all in travelers who arrived from outside the country, he emailed colleagues to acknowledge it posed ‘a very serious public health threat,’ but he assured them ‘the virus is not spreading in the U.S. at this time.’

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That actually may not have been the case. The CDC confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Washington on Jan 20.

Trevor Bedford, a computational epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, has said he believes that the virus could have begun circulating in the state immediately after the traveler arrived in mid-January, based on his analysis of genetic data from the initial Washington cases.

Missing information: The CDC asked for help and warned about how they had lost track of potentially infected people
Missing information: The CDC asked for help and warned about how they had lost track of potentially infected people
The CDC said in its statement that Redfield’s comments were based on the data available at the time.

‘At no time, did he underestimate the potential for COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic,’ the agency’s statement said.

‘He stated consistently that more cases, including person to person spread, were likely.’

On March 3, Redfield wrote to his staff again, stressing the agency’s readiness, despite the growing evidence that it wasn’t.

‘We anticipated and prepared for the possible spread of COVID-19 in communities across the United States,’ he said in an email.

The CDC said in its statement that Redfield was telling staffers that the agency would continue to be engaged in a sustained response to COVID-19. Redfield’s email was not characterizing the state of the outbreak, the CDC said.

By that point, it was clear that the coronavirus was gaining ground within the country, even if the inability to test for it was obscuring the true numbers.

Physicians and public health experts begged for more tests while warning that thousands of cases would soon emerge.

Still, Redfield’s March 3 email struck a reassuring note.

‘Confronting global outbreaks and protecting Americans is what we do,’ Redfield wrote in the message.

‘More and more, people are turning to us for guidance, and we respond consistently with evidence-based information on the journalism profession.

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