Everyone knew a pandemic would come one day

The Trump administration took steps to keep COVID-19 from reaching the U.S., but the pandemic playbook -- developed by prior administrations -- remained unused without a pandemic-planning office.
7:12 | 07/29/20

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Transcript for Everyone knew a pandemic would come one day
Accident Forgiveness from Allstate. Click or call for a quote today. On January 15th, a man landed at the Seattle airport. He was in his 30s. No pre-existing medical problems. He traveled to visit family in Wuhan, China. He took a ride share car home from the airport. And right away, the next day, he started feeling sick. After a few days of feeling poorly at home, he came to one of our clinics. He basically said, "I've recently traveled to Wuhan. I've got a cough and a fever. And I'm concerned I might have coronavirus." They contacted the local health officer who recommended testing. They also involved the CDC to run the case through them at that point. We were not allowed to test at state public health and local public health departments were not able to test either. So if we wanted a patient tested, we had to first receive approval or clearance from the CDC. We had to make a case that the patient met their very strict criteria. So patient zero, his sample had to be flown overnight to the CDC lab in Atlanta. And he was told to quarantine. He was sent home. It was a big surprise when we got the call. The test was positive. It was January 20th. Patient zero had been identified. And now, officially, covid-19 was on American soil. President trump is at the world economic forum in Davos. He answers for the first time on whether he's worried about the growing pandemic in China. We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. And we have it under control. It's going to be just fine." I never thought it would be just fine. 'Cause I didn't think we were doing what was necessary to make it just fine. The administration were still saying this was a problem overseas. This is a serious health situation in China, but I want to emphasize that the risk to the American public currently is low. I think in January and February there was a sense that we still had this under control. January was really our opportunity as a country to contain this virus before it spread like wildfire. And that opportunity was missed. At this point, covid-19 is on American shores. The question is, was there a plan for the federal government to deal with a pandemic? And it turns out that successive administrations previously had already laid the groundwork for pandemic response. You know, president bush deserves a lot of credit for what he did in 2005. In August, 2005, president bush goes to Crawford, Texas, to his ranch for what is supposed to be a long vacation. He reads a book about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic by John and it freaks him out. Sometime prior to the spring of 1918, an animal virus killed between 50 and 100 million people. And he sees Barry talking about how these pandemics happen every hundred years or so, you have something massive like this. He's looking at the calendar. We'll hear all of us soon. President bush knows personal experience things he did not anticipate can happen, and can cause severe damage, and kill a lot of people. Lvn 9/11, kaert. Could the next big one be a global pandemic? By then, had already had the sars experience, and then so called bird flu which was pretty scary so that's -- that's a pretty good reason to get your attention. He challenged us to come up a government wide national, not just federal government, strategy for dealing with it, should it happen. The president of the United States. And they get congress to appropriate money, real money. $7 billion behind this plan. If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today. So there was a robust national response. As with all outbreaks, we got the periodic increase and interest in public health, infectious diseases, health security. And then eventually the interest would wane. And then you see a decrease in funds. So it's a usual bust and boom cycle for public health, unfortunately. Tonight, outbreak, a new and deadly strain of flu. The Obama administration has to deal with an outbreak almost immediately after Obama becomes president. Every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations. T's dealt with pretty quickly. And you go back to the cycle of complacency. There are other problems that are more pressing. But five years later, 2014, ebola. An outbreak of the disease so fierce, so deadly, even the word strikes terror. This scares the hell out of everybody. President Obama and vice president Biden have authorized an unprecedented whole of government response to the ebola crisis. And the good news is we're starting to see some results from that. When I was winding up my work on ebola, I met with the president and said to him, we need to build a permanent structure at the white house. The funding we're asking for is needed to prevent and deal with future outbreaks and threats before they become epidemics. And he set up a pandemic prevention office, in the national security council, to get us ready for that more deadly, more dangerous, more rapidly spreading epidemic that was going to come to this country some day. Donald Trump takes office. He has some people in his national security apparatus who served under president bush who see this also as a significant issue. More turnover in this white house than any other administration in recent history. The challenge is when you have had as many turnovers in this administration at the cabinet and sub-cabinet level, a lot of that work that would have been done during the transition has been lost. But eventually president trump's third national security advisor, John Bolton decides to do away with the section of the national security council that specifically deals with pandemics. Just eliminates it. Now the trump administration says they were just streamlining the national security council and that some of those staffers were reassigned but continued to work on the issue of pandemic preparedness. It's not like the government stops worrying about a global pandemic. But make no mistake, at this point this is not a major priority in the trump administration. One thing that the Obama administration left was a pandemic playbook. And on page nine of the pandemic playbook, it said, "Hey, here's something to worry about. A coronavirus." I don't know if the trump administration didn't pay attention to the playbook, I don't know if they didn't read it. What we do know is they didn't run the plays in that playbook and it would have made a big difference if they had.

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

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