The director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is upholding the “15 days to slow the spread” instruction as US President Donald Trump said during a press conference on the latest developments in the coronavirus outbreak in the US at the James Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House on Aug. March 2020 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

Tuesday was a year since President Donald Trump announced his administration’s “15 days to slow the spread” campaign asking Americans to stay home for about two weeks to contain the coronavirus.

The United States had confirmed just over 4,000 Covid-19 cases. At the time when city and state officials were rushing to put restrictions in place to contain the outbreak. Countries closed the borders, the stock market crater, and Trump recognized – which turned out to be prescient – that the outbreak could extend beyond the summer.

Trump asked people to stay home, not gather in groups, refrain from discretionary travel, and stop eating in food courts and bars for the next 15 days.

“If everyone now makes this change or these critical changes and sacrifices, we will unite as a nation and defeat the virus, and we will all have a great festival together,” Trump said at a press conference at the White House March 16, 2020, where he also announced the first vaccine candidate to participate in phase 1 clinical trials. “With several weeks of targeted action, we can turn the tide and turn it quickly.”

A look back at the first coronavirus guidelines issued by the federal government shows how little was known at the time about the virus that made nearly 30 million Americans sick and killed at least 535,000 people in the United States

The two biggest flaws in the guidelines were that they did not recognize that people without symptoms could spread the virus and said nothing about wearing masks, said former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Instead, this early guide mainly focused on urging people who are feeling sick to stay home and gather together so that no more than 10 people would congregate.

“There was so much we didn’t know about this disease at the time,” said Wen. “There were two key elements in our scientific knowledge that we did not fully understand. One was the degree of asymptomatic transmission and two were the aerosols, as is not just transmitted through sneezing and coughing.”

Wen, who is also an emergency doctor and public health professor at George Washington University, noted that not only politicians but scientists too have failed to understand how to fight the virus. It wasn’t until early April that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recognized that wearing a mask could help protect people, she said.

“Opposing Opinions”

In fact, senior U.S. health officials urged Americans not to buy masks in late February in order to receive supplies from health care providers.

“Seriously Folks – STOP BUYING MASKS!” Then-US Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted on February 29, 2020: “They are NOT effective in preventing the public from getting coronavirus, but if health care providers cannot get them to care for sick patients, they and ours will be at risk Communities! “

Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as Trump Coordinator of the Trump’s Covid-19 Task Force under Trump, gave a glimpse into the early confusion over science last week. In one of her first public appearances since leaving the White House, Birx said there were doctors “from credible universities who came to the White House with these conflicting opinions.”

“There were people with legitimate credentials and outstanding careers who fed information, and I had never seen that before, and it was hugely difficult,” Birx said Thursday at a virtual symposium sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Legitimate disagreements within the scientific community are widespread, but perhaps the debate has never been so public or so high. Birx, who left the CDC last week and took up some positions in the private sector, said the discussion of early Covid politics isn’t as easy as science versus politics. She added that little was known about the virus at the time and it was difficult to separate good science from bad science.

‘Red flag’

Other public health professionals haven’t been so sorry for the White House’s early response to the pandemic. Saskia Popescu, epidemiologist and professor of biological defense at George Mason University, said the “15 days to slow the spread” guidelines showed “a lack of awareness of managing the outbreak response”. The initiative should not be tied to a schedule, but to a specific task such as reducing the number of new infections to a certain level every day.

“Simply put, 15 days is not enough to address so much of what was ahead of us in March 2020 and this plan really reveals an administrative and national plan that has been superficial in response,” Popescu said in an email .

“For many of us in the public health sector, this has been a red flag – an indication that the government had an unrealistic view of pandemic action and was unaware of the reality – a pandemic cannot be resolved in 15 days and no strategic requirements are required. ” to involve a serious amount of manpower and human resources, “she added.

Testing

Dr. Oxiris Barbot – the former New York health chief who led the Big Apple through the start of the pandemic when the state recorded nearly 1,000 deaths a day – told CNBC that it was evident in late February that the coronavirus had the potential to be catastrophic. She added that the federal government’s failure to prioritize auditing large segments of the population was one of its earliest missteps.

Some of the early tests that the CDC developed and delivered were flawed and only a limited group of Americans were given access to them. The Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Congressional lawmakers on March 12, 2020 – just days before Trump’s 15-day guidance – that the US is unable to test as many people for the disease as other countries fail. “

In particular, the 15-day instructions did not mention who should have tests carried out under what circumstances.

Barbot, now a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a phone interview that the federal government’s testing problems “drove the city down before the game even started.”

“I think one of the biggest regrets I have is that we didn’t have the tests we needed,” said Barbot. “In retrospect, I believe there was a significant number of undetected infections in February and we have tried hard to identify them.”

She added that officials should have acted faster early on if cases were discovered to prevent spread through company closings.

“There should have been downtime earlier,” said Barbot. “I think the federal leadership fell short here because the former president downplayed the importance at the national level and saw a different picture at the front.”