National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow on Sunday defended his claim in February that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. was “contained,” telling CNN’s Jake Tapper his quote was based on “the actual facts” at the time.
But federal public health officials had been sounding the alarm about the potential threat of the virus before then.
“We have contained this,” Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, told CNBC on Feb. 25. “I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.”
“This is a human tragedy,” he added. “That’s the worst part of this. The business side and the economic side ― I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.”
Of course, Kudlow was wrong about both the virus’s spread and its economic impact. As of Sunday, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are known to have contracted the virus and at least 67,000 have died. Roughly 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment since mid-March amid sweeping business closures.
During an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Tapper asked Kudlow if there’s a disconnect between Trump administration officials who want to reopen the economy and medical experts who warn doing so too early could be disastrous. Tapper pointed to Kudlow’s eyebrow-raising comments from February.
“My quote then was based on the actual facts, which at the time there were only 40 or 50 cases and it was contained,” Kudlow said, later adding, “Yes, some doctors were more fearful. Other doctors had many different things to say. I don’t want to get in and play this game, who said what and when.”
“As the virus spread exponentially in ways that virtually no one could have predicted, of course we changed our mind,” he continued. “The sort of ankle-biting that’s going on in Washington is just incorrect.”
But the same day Kudlow declared the coronavirus “contained” in the U.S., a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the opposite.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a conference call with reporters that Americans should expect “community spread” of the virus.
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Messonnier said at the time. “We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare, in the expectation that this could be bad. … The disruption of daily life might be severe.”
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30.
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