Inside the pandemic's lost month

Any chance to slow the virus’s advance on America was lost in February, when a group of experts tried to warn the Trump administration, but were ignored, leaving the nation unprepared and unprotected.
7:17 | 07/29/20

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Transcript for Inside the pandemic's lost month
What's eerie about an outbreak, every outbreak I've run, is that in the beginning it's always quiet. In February the country was going along its way. On February 1st, the surgeon general even tweeted, "Roses are red, violets are blue, risk is low for the coronavirus but it's high for the flu." February 1st, president trump, he's at mar-a-lago. He's playing golf, he's hosting a super bowl party. The first thing he does in February is he bans travel to and from China. The U.S. Is closing the door to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. And he then goes on to basically brag about it on fox News. Coronavirus. How concerned are you? Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. It was a good idea to do travel restriction from China because it was clear that that's the source that was seeding us. The truth is, that the travel ban was probably already too late when it was put into place. And the world didn't know it, but the virus had already jumped continents because of that commerce very early on. As February develops, the president proceeds to downplay the virus. You know a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat. But behind the scenes, a group of people, current and former senior federal government officials, top doctors, are engaged in a series of email chains called red dawn. I had seen the movie, yes. A pretty good, cheesy, 1980s classic. Will wufl Ver eens? Our group has been referred to as the wolverines, you know, how I guess we're the group in the movie that saved the united States. These signs were out there pretty early. The surprise, to us, was that folks weren't learning this out of the official channels that should have been broadcasting that information. On my email, some Pentagon officials had essentially written off this pandemic as a bad flu. And so, this was my somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to that. And I described Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, just a little stroll gone bad. Pompeii, a bit of a dust storm. And Wuhan, just a bad flu season. The red dawn group ultimately becomes fixated on a cruise ship in the far east, the diamond princess because of an outbreak of the coronavirus onboard. Today 70 new cases of the virus have been confirmed onboard the ship. Reading from the red don email chain, the case count is now up to 136. This is unbelievable. We are so far behind the curve. So the diamond princess was one red flag amongst a sea of red flags at that point of what we should have been doing as Americans to be prepared. As you know in those early days, we still had not ramped up testing in the United States. When there's a new pathogen like this, you know, the CDC sets out to develop a test. That's routinely what we do, and we do it very well. Which they did, and they did in record time, seven to ten days. And initially we were all flooded with relief. We can test. And they immediately came across a problem. The initial samples that came from the CDC that were sent out didn't work. So they had to call them back. And so the CDC then had to send out a second batch of test kits, which also had a problem. And as the weeks ticked by, we were running out of time to contain the spread of this virus, and we knew it. It took us about, close to four to five weeks to figure out the contamination, and within five weeks we got the test to the health departments throughout the nation, which I would still say is pretty record time. In an outbreak scenario, every day matters. Our chances to contain this virus were gone. We could have brought in the gigantic manufacturers of diagnostic tests, and our failure to take that approach with a homegrown test out of CDC has cost us lives. I don't think CDC will manufacture tests in the future. I think what we'll do is we'll contract a manufacturer to manufacture the tests. This is pretty much the most critical time in the outbreak for us to be flying blind. The virus was seeding America, and sadly, lives were lost. On Valentine's day weekend, I was part of a number of square dance of events where I and many others contracted covid-19. If we had known, we could have taken some precautions or we might have been able to cancel or we might have done something different. Within two weeks, the first person in the square dance community would be dead. It was a very sad -- it was a very sad time. And it still is because these people were good people. And they were my friends. And they were taken from us. By the middle of February, the federal government was only processing about 100 covid-19 tests a day. Meanwhile, alarm bells are ringing all around the world. So far, 454 cruise passengers have been infected. And then as February developed, president trump held a series of campaign rallies -- I think it's going to work out fine. I think when we get into April and the warm weather that has a very negative affect on that. Near the end of February some of the testing becomes more available. The CDC began to ship out the new version of the test. In Kirkland, Washington, Dr. Francis riedo decides he's going to randomly test two of his patients. And, shockingly, they both come back as positive for coronavirus. I knew this was -- this was the event. This was now the beginning, everything changed at that point. And that's when we first started realizing the first community spread that was not related to an identifiable source. Without a doubt February was a lost month for this nation's response. It's going to disappear, one day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear. Meanwhile, the CDC is confirming the first covid-19 death in the United States. The disconnect between what the president was saying and what we knew to be the science, it was frightening. Obviously there was a failure of leadership in dealing with this pandemic, without question. It was too late. The outbreaks were already out of control. There was no way to stop it at that point. We had missed our chance to contain it. There was a parade of ambulances coming from lifecare.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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