President Trump insisted Thursday that his administration was prepared for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but he also said: "Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before. ... Nobody ever thought of numbers like this." It turns out that his administration had gamed out an eerily similar pandemic over the first half of 2019, The New York Times reports, and issued recommendations in October that highlighted how unprepared the U.S. was to deal with such a respiratory virus outbreak.
The simulation, called "Crimson Contagion," was run by the Health and Human Services Department with participation from 12 states and more than a dozen federal agencies, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security Department, and National Security Council, the Times reports. It tried to model what would happen if an influenza pandemic that started in China spread through the U.S. with no treatment, leaving 7.7 million Americans hospitalized and 586,000 dead.
"Many of the moments during the tabletop exercise are now chillingly familiar," the Times reports. The Crimson Contagion fictional virus prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to urge social distancing, employers to shift to working from home, and a confusing patchwork of school closures. The exercise found that U.S. didn't have any way to quickly produce needed medical supplies like N95 respirators and ventilators.
"Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country," the Times reports. "And it was hardly the first warning for the nation's leaders." In 2017, for example, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive pandemic response exercise with senior incoming Trump administration officials, most of whom were subsequently fired or quit. In 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton disbanded the National Security Council's pandemic response team, set up after an Ebola pandemic.
HHS says the fictional outbreak of influenza was "very different than the novel coronavirus." Read more at The New York Times.