ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The nation’s governors were priming for battle against the coronavirus as early as February, but President Donald Trump’s lackadaisical approach to the spreading disease hindered a national response, according to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, chairman of the National Governors Association.
Trump initially was “downplaying” the threat and saying “this virus is going to disappear,” despite grave warnings from top national experts, Hogan told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.
“All of the leaders in the administration, the experts and the public health doctors at the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), they were aware and providing this information. And yet it seemed as if the president was downplaying it and saying, you know, this virus is going to disappear,” Hogan said.
The biggest mistake in the first couple of months, the governor said, was not developing a national testing strategy.
“Throughout the pandemic, it (the federal government) was not assisting the states enough with testing and now as it’s spiking back up again and we have a resurgence of this virus all across the country, the No. 1 thing we can do is to put more into testing and contact tracing to identify and stop the spread,” Hogan said.
Hogan criticized the president repeatedly in his upcoming book, “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic and the Toxic Politics that Divide America,” which is set for release July 28.
In the book, Hogan highlights a closed-door meeting in Washington on Feb. 9 between governors and leading health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hogan wrote the governors received a series of detailed presentations about how the virus could be catastrophic; the death toll could be significant. Hogan described it as “a harrowing warning of an imminent threat” with a “huge contrast between the experts’ warnings and the president’s public dismissals.”
Hogan writes that Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, advised the governors to consult with their legal teams to find out what public health emergency powers they had and whether they could order quarantines.
“That eye-opening briefing in early February gave the governors a giant leg up before the epidemic was officially declared a global pandemic,” Hogan wrote. “With the president largely unengaged in this crucial early period, the governors were ready to step up and lead in the early months of what was quickly becoming a terrible plague.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the meeting in a brief news release, but without the details Hogan writes about concerning the gravity of the presentations.
“The panel reiterated that while this is a serious public health matter, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and that the federal government will continue working in close coordination with state and local governments to keep it that way,” the news release said.
But Hogan said Thursday that he and most of the governors “came out of there with a sense of this was going to be the most serious health crisis that America’s ever faced.”
Hogan wrote he was able to “feel the friction” with the president on calls Trump participated in with the nation’s governors due to earlier criticism.
“I did not go out of my way to criticize the president,” Hogan said Thursday. “But unlike a lot of Republicans, I’m not the guy that’s just going to sit down and shut up and not stand up and say something if I think something’s going wrong.” Hogan said he will consider a run for the presidency in 2024.
Hogan ran into friction with Trump in April, when the governor announced he had obtained 500,000 virus test kits from South Korea. At the time, Trump said Hogan didn’t need to go to South Korea for tests.
“I think the president made some ridiculous comment that we didn’t have to go find tests, that we can just call Mike Pence and get all the tests we wanted. It was obviously not true,” Hogan said Thursday. “If I didn’t have to spend three weeks searching all over the world, to find these tests I certainly wouldn’t have.”
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