President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have taken a lot of heat for dragging their feet so persistently in dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak. But according to one newly unearthed, secret recording, at least one leading Republican — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.) — actually seemed to grasp the dangers of the virus at least two weeks prior to its public explosion. He did not warn the public; instead, he warned the members of a North Carolina businesspersons’ association called the Tar Heel Circle. A luncheon on Capitol Hill that they put on is where the newly revealed warning was taken.
what guidance did Burr have that he wasn’t talking about and sounding the alarm for the general public?
— David Mack (@davidmackau) March 19, 2020
He told those in attendance:
‘There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.’
The 1918 pandemic of so-called Spanish flu infected more than one-fourth of the world’s then population, and it killed tens of millions of people. And yet, Burr did not rush with this privately recorded pronouncement to warn the general public or even just his constituents at-large. Why not? At the time, before the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. skyrocketed to its current level of almost 10,000, President Trump was rushing around insisting that concern over the Coronavirus was a hoax and that cases in the U.S. would soon hit zero. Neither of those claims are true — but maybe Burr didn’t want to draw ire for breaking with the president. In so doing, he failed to give people the extra preparation time that they could have had.
NPR’s Tim Mak notes that “a lot of the things [Burr] warned about have actually come to pass,” including the idea that travel to and from Europe would soon be questionable at best.
Burr told the crowd:
‘Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or it can be done on videoconference. Why risk it?’
In the time since, the Trump administration has flatly banned the majority of travel to and from Europe in an attempt to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. In other words, Burr was accurate in his assessments, which also included the possibility of schools shutting down, the military getting involved in Coronavirus response efforts, and more — but “nowhere” in public statements at the time did Burr relay any of this, Mak notes.
In the time since, public assessments of and responses to the Coronavirus situation have spiked dramatically in intensity.
Besides the federally imposed travel bans, jurisdictions across the country have also closed schools, restaurants, bars, and similar establishments in attempts to limit the community spread of the Coronavirus. At one recent press conference, Trump suggested that restrictive community gathering measures could be in place until July or August, but it’s entirely unclear when the restrictions might actually be lifted, and that appears simply as an educated guess.