B1 Intermediate UK 29 Folder Collection
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JUDY WOODRUFF: New reporting from The New York Times has revealed even more early warnings
about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and raises questions about whether the president
and his administration waited too long to take important steps.
Eric Lipton is an investigative reporter at The Times, and he joins us now.
Eric Lipton, thank you so much for joining us.
Your reporting revealed the existence of these so-called Red Dawn e-mails between doctors,
medical experts in the administration. They were obtained, in part, through the Freedom
of Information Act request.
And in one e-mail that I want to ask you about, Dr. James Lawler, who is an infectious disease
expert -- he served in both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations -- wrote:
"We have thrown 15 years of institutional learning out the window and are making decisions
based on intuition."
What were these e-mails, and what came out of your finding out about them?
ERIC LIPTON, The New York Times: Well, what was going on was that there was a group of
physicians and pandemic experts that, from the Department of Homeland Security, Health
and Human Services, the CDC, the Veterans Administration, that were consulting and comparing
notes, that -- and they were trying to make a really critical decision, which was, at
what point do we go from saying we are going to attempt to contain the infection to which
it's -- we have community spread, and we now need to move to mitigate its spread through
actions like social distancing?
So, at first, the goal was just to contain it, but, at a certain point, you need to say,
we need to flip the switch and say, schools need to close, businesses need to close.
These guys were comparing notes to try to figure out, when was the moment that we needed
to flip the switch? The fire alarm had gone off. Now we needed to mitigate it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And from your reporting, what were some of the earliest warnings that the
president got? And how did he respond to those?
ERIC LIPTON: Look, I mean, the president's National Security Council -- there were members
on the National Security Council that in January were quite concerned about what was going
on in China and were worried that it was just a matter of time before the pandemic would
be in the United States.
And the Health and Human Services secretary, Azar, spoke with the president in January
as well to express his concern about the fact that this was almost assuredly coming to the
United States and was going to be a public health emergency here.
The president told him to, you know, calm down, that he was too worried about it. And,
repeatedly, in that period, while it's true that the president did limit travel by Chinese
citizens to the United States in late January, there were -- among many of his aides, there
was a belief that the United States needed to be preparing for the next stage of mitigation.
And it took weeks too long to get to that point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On January the 22nd, in an interview with CNBC, President Trump was asked
about a pandemic and whether there were worries about it.
Here's what he said:
DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: We have it totally under control. It's one
person coming in from China. And we have it under control.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what did we know about the coronavirus at that point in late January?
What did people know in the administration?
ERIC LIPTON: They knew that it was already here in the United States. They knew that
it was almost -- it was just a matter of time before it started to spread widely in the
United States and that, while containment was still important to try to do contact tracing
to limit the spread, that they needed to be preparing for widespread illnesses.
That was evident to any public health expert at that point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is an audio that I want to play for the audience, because,
on February the 25th, Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the Centers for Disease Control -- she's
the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases -- she had a briefing
call with news reporters in which she issued a warning.
Here's that.
DR. NANCY MESSONNIER, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: These measures might
include missed work and loss of income. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming
and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need
to start thinking about now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just one day later, President Trump said this:
DONALD TRUMP: And, again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days
is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we have done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Eric, why was that a key moment in the administration's response?
ERIC LIPTON: Arguably, that was one of the most essential moments in the whole saga,
as we look back on it, on history, because that was the moment when they had been a consensus
among his medical advisers that the United States needed to announce that we needed to
move to social distancing that's in hot spots in particular.
And the president was unready to -- unprepared and unready to do that. And, in fact, he lashed
out at the human -- health and human services secretary, Azar, after Nancy Messonnier made
that statement while he was in India and on his way home.
So, what Trump -- President Trump did instead was to wait three weeks before he embraced
the need for social distancing, and the net result was that there are many more illnesses
and deaths in the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we are now in -- Eric, in what is called mitigation, this -- these
widespread closures, all about enforcing social distancing.
President Trump announced the first social distancing initiative, 15 days to stop the
spread, he called it, and that was on March the 16th. But how early was this first proposed
to the president as a solution? And what is known about why he waited to adopt it?
ERIC LIPTON: It was a month prior to that that essentially a consensus was forming among
medical experts in the United States government that we now needed to move to mitigation.
And the thing is there -- it's almost down to a science. Once you have the first death
from a contagious disease like this, or you have a certain percentage of people who are
-- who have the illness, you have a window of about one to two weeks to take severe -- significant
mitigation steps.
If you don't do it, you're going to -- it's like waiting for a house fire to get from
being, you know, on the stove in the kitchen to the roof is burning and the structural
elements of the house are on fire, and then you call the fire department.
We waited until the roof was burning and the structure was on fire in New York state and
New York City before we called the fire department. And that was a decision that the president
made, was to not move ahead with those announcements.
Now, again, it's the governors' choices as to when to do that, but it's the federal government's
role to play a leadership -- and to help the governors make the choices by letting them
know what the public health officials think is needed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know, Eric, that the lack of testing, the lack of personal protective
equipment has all -- all of that has also been a significant and ongoing challenge.
What did your reporting reveal about the delays in dealing with all that?
ERIC LIPTON: Again, there's two phases in this process, the containment and the mitigation
phase.
But during containment, it was evident to any public health expert that this was going
to spread in the United States. So, as of January, they knew that there was going to
be illnesses in pockets across the United States. They didn't know how many.
But they should have known in January that now is the time to spend hundreds of millions
of dollars to buy face masks and other protective equipment for hospitals. They knew that the
material in their supplies was expired and there wasn't enough of it.
Now, they didn't order that stuff until March, but they could have started in January. They
could have started the process of getting ventilators built in January, knowing that
they likely were going to need them. That didn't happen until March. And that has severe
consequences as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Eric Lipton with The New York Times, congratulations on some really extraordinary
reporting. Thank you.
ERIC LIPTON: Thank you.
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What new reports reveal about Trump's response to COVID-19

29 Folder Collection
Xinyin Wu published on April 18, 2020
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