The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19

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Alex Azar had sounded self-assured at the stop of January. At a news meeting in the hulking H.H.S. headquarters in Washington, he mentioned he experienced the government’s reaction to the new coronavirus underneath command, pointing out large-ranking work opportunities he experienced held in the department through the 2003 SARS outbreak and other infectious threats.

“I know this playbook perfectly,” he advised reporters.

A Yale-qualified lawyer who at the time served as the prime lawyer at the health section, Mr. Azar had expended a 10 years as a prime govt at Eli Lilly, one of the world’s greatest drug organizations. But he caught Mr. Trump’s focus in component since of other credentials: Following regulation university, Mr. Azar was a clerk for some of the nation’s most conservative judges, including Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Courtroom. And for two decades, he worked as Ken Starr’s deputy on the Clinton Whitewater investigation.

As Mr. Trump’s second wellbeing secretary, confirmed at the commencing of 2018, Mr. Azar has been rapid to compliment the president and aim on the difficulties he cares about: decreasing drug costs and fighting opioid habit. On Feb. 6 — even as the W.H.O. introduced that there were being additional than 28,000 coronavirus scenarios close to the globe — Mr. Azar was in the second row in the White House’s East Home, demonstrating his loyalty to the president as Mr. Trump claimed vindication from his impeachment acquittal the day in advance of and lashed out at “evil” lawmakers and the F.B.I.’s “top scum.”

As general public awareness on the virus danger intensified in January and February, Mr. Azar grew more and more frustrated about the severe highlight on his department and the leaders of companies who claimed to him, in accordance to persons familiar with the reaction to the virus inside the companies.

Described as a prickly boss by some administration officers, Mr. Azar has experienced a longstanding feud with Seema Verma, the Medicare and Medicaid chief, who just lately grew to become a standard presence at Mr. Trump’s televised briefings on the pandemic. Mr. Azar did not include things like Dr. Hahn on the virus job pressure he led, even though some of the F.D.A. commissioner’s aides participated in H.H.S. conferences on the issue.

And tensions grew between the secretary and Dr. Redfield as the testing situation persisted. Mr. Azar and Dr. Redfield have been on the phone as frequently as a 50 %-dozen occasions a working day. But through February, as the C.D.C. take a look at faltered, Mr. Azar became confident that Dr. Redfield’s agency was giving him with inaccurate info about testing that the secretary repeated publicly, according to various administration officers.

In a person occasion, Mr. Azar appeared on Sunday morning news programs and claimed that far more than 3,600 folks experienced been tested for the virus. In reality, the actual quantity was a lot more compact mainly because quite a few sufferers had been tested a number of occasions, an mistake the C.D.C. experienced to appropriate in congressional testimony that 7 days. A single wellbeing division formal mentioned Mr. Azar was consistently certain that the C.D.C.’s exam would be commonly accessible inside a 7 days or 10 days, only to be offered the similar assure a week afterwards.

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