Newly released emails reveal a ‘Red Dawn Team’ of medical and security experts sounded the alarm about COVID-19’s deadly potential in January
President Donald Trump has claimed that back in January and February, no one in the U.S. had any way of knowing that COVID-19 — which was spreading rapidly in Mainland China — would become a global pandemic and kill thousands of Americans. But in fact, medical and security experts were sounding the alarm, including a group that has been dubbed the Red Dawn Team. And according to ABC News reporters Matthew Mosk, Kaitlyn Folmer and Josh Margolin, the e-mails the experts sent one another in January and February “now read like a chilling foreshadowing of the unfolding deadly pandemic.”
Their e-mail chain discussing COVID-19 started in January and was given the subject line “Red Dawn Rising,” which was a reference to “Red Dawn” — a Cold War-themed 1984 Hollywood action film in which a group of young Americans fought communist invaders. Members of the Red Dawn Team, according to the ABC News reporters, have “broken their silence about the early warnings” and their efforts to convince the Trump Administration that a major health crisis was unfolding.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, a public health officer in Seattle and King County, Washington who was part of that e-mail chain, told ABC News, “We did not step up and meet the challenge that we needed to meet. We didn’t act quickly enough to do the things that we needed to do early enough. And we still are not doing the things we need to do to get this outbreak under control.”
Although the New York Times first reported on the e-mail chain in April, members of the Red Dawn Team have — according to Mosk, Folmer and Margolin — “tried to maintain a low profile.” But six of them agreed to speak to ABC News, including Dr. David Marcozzi, now with the University of Maryland Medical School.
Marcozzi told ABC News, “We were generally concerned that this was going to be a threat to our nation.” And Dr. Dan Hanfling, a biosecurity and disaster response expert who was also part of the Red Dawn Team, explained, “The president began to say (in March) that nobody could imagine that something like this could actually occur. The truth is that there was a group of us that had been trying to raise the alarm.”
In the e-mail string, the Red Dawn Team discussed, in depth, what was happening in Mainland China at the time — for example, Georgia Tech’s Eva Lee noted that a 20-year-old Wuhan woman was asymptomatic yet infected five members of her family with COVID-19. And Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Trump Administration, saw what Lee wrote and responded, “Eva is this true?! If so, we have a huge (hole) on our screening and quarantine effort.”
Mosk, Folmer and Margolin note that “by February, members of the Red Dawn chain were solidifying their view that what started as a mystery illness in China was poised to become an epidemic of historic proportions” — and James Lawler, a former White House official under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama who was part of the chain, discussed his fears publicly.
According to the ABC News reporters, Lawler “shared his early projections during a speaking engagement at a reception for the American Hospital Association. When he began to rattle off the numbers, he recalled, the room grew uncomfortably silent. Without a clear and aggressive response, he said he expected 96 million Americans to contract COVID-19 and as many as 480,000 would die.”
Lawler told ABC News, “People were stunned…. They had not heard these types of projections before. The fact that folks were hearing these numbers for the first time from me was concerning.”