He warned of the COVID-19 pandemic early on — now he says 'we completely blew it'

He warned of the COVID-19 pandemic early on — now he says 'we completely blew it'

When the coronavirus outbreak was still new to humanity and President Donald Trump showed little sign of taking the problem seriously, journalist Donald McNeil of the New York Times was warning about the emerging threat in the pages of the paper of record.

"The Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts," McNeil wrote on February 2.

He also issued a warning Trump clearly didn't take to heart:

Closing borders to highly infectious pathogens never succeeds completely, experts said, because all frontiers are somewhat porous. Nonetheless, closings and rigorous screening may slow the spread, which will buy time for the development of drug treatments and vaccines.

And in a new interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, McNeil explained why so many other countries have controlled the virus much better than the United States.

"We completely blew it for the first two months of our response. We were in a headless chicken phase," he said. "And yes, it's the president's fault. It's not China's fault. You know, the head of the Chinese CDC was on the phone with [U.S. CDC Director] Robert Redfield on Jan. 3, again on Jan. 8, and the two agencies were talking on Jan. 19. The Chinese had a test on Jan. 13. The Germans had a test on Jan. 16. We fiddled around for two months! We had a test on March 5, and it didn't work. We didn't have 10,000 people tested until March 15. So we lost two months there. And that was because of incompetent leadership at the CDC. I'm sorry to say, it's a great agency but it’s incompetently led, and I think Dr. Redfield should resign."

He continued: "And, suppression from the top. The real cover-up was the person this country saying, you know: 'This is not an important virus; the flu is worse; it's all going to go away. It's noting.' And that encouraged everybody around him to say: 'It's nothing, it's nothing, it's nothing.'"

And even now, McNeil said, we're still not doing enough.

"We need to test the way Germany is testing now," he explained. "We need to have kids tested every four days when they go back to school. And we're not going to be close to that..."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.