The Trump administration ignored a pandemic warning from White House economists who published a study estimating possible effects of a pandemic in September, according to a New York Times report.
The White House study reportedly cautioned that a pandemic, like the coronavirus outbreak the world is now facing, could cause the deaths of a half-million Americans and cost the economy as much as $3.8 trillion. The study contradicts what administration officials have repeatedly said about the coronavirus coming out of nowhere and causing unforeseen devastation to the U.S. economy, the Times noted.
The 2019 study was ordered by the National Security Council, two people familiar with the matter told the newspaper, which added that it warned officials not to conflate the risks of the annual flu with a potential pandemic.
Administration officials, including President Trump, had downplayed the coronavirus, comparing it to the flu.
“People may conflate the high expected costs of pandemic flu with the far more common, lower-cost seasonal flu,” the study said. “It is not surprising that people might underappreciate the economic and health risks posed by pandemic flu and not invest in ways to reduce these risks.”
One of the authors of the study, who has since left the White House, estimated a majority of economic activity would need to be halted for two to eight months to slow down a potential virus, according to the Times.
The study, which did not predict the coronavirus specifically, modeled a pandemic involving a virus similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic or the swine flu of 2009 hitting the country. The model flu in the study, however, was less contagious and less deadly than public health officials say the coronavirus could be.
Its authors estimated a pandemic could force economic activity to drop by $36 billion per week. But if officials did nothing to contain the virus, the country could lose $13 trillion, or two-thirds of what the U.S. was projected to generate this year.
The U.S. has confirmed more than 189,600 cases of the virus and 4,081 deaths. Public health officials have estimated the coronavirus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.
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