Election 2020

Kamala Harris Saying Trump Knew COVID-19 was 'Airborne' in February Is Dishonest

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

In the debate last night, Sen. Kamala Harris insisted that President Trump knew on January 28, 2020, that COVID-19 was “airborne.” She said this to give the impression that the president kept information from the public.

That is really weird since the Coronavirus Task Force started telling people how to avoid transmission from droplets through the air in late February. And the CDC just updated its guidelines on October 5, 2020, to announce some limited indications of aerosol transmission through the air over distances greater than six feet:

There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example, while singing or exercising.

The agency went on to note:

  • Available data indicate that it is much more common for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread through close contact with a person who has COVID-19 than through airborne transmission.
  • Respiratory droplets can also land on surfaces and objects. It is possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads

The highest risk for contracting COVID-19 is still via close contact over some period of time with an infected individual. The guidelines for testing from the CDC say the period of time that poses a risk for close contact with an infected individual is 15 minutes.

Democrats perpetuating the lie that President Trump knew the virus was “airborne” like it is some huge deception is simply ridiculous. Both droplet and aerosol transmission occur through the air. A non-medical professional referring to either as “airborne” is not unusual. In fact, very few people without a medical or scientific background would know the difference.

The Coronavirus Task Force began teaching Americans about droplet transmission at the end of February and started preaching social distancing in the second week of March. There was no reason to do public education as long as they pursued a strategy of containment and mitigation among people who had traveled and their close contacts.

The first Task Force briefing was led by Director of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on January 31, 2020. They had been meeting since the 27th and had announced the travel ban. At that time, Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC said:

First though, I want to emphasize that this is a serious health situation in China, but I want to emphasize that the risk to the American public currently is low.  Our goal is do all we can do to keep it that way.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was in touch with colleagues in China and other countries through the World Health Organization, echoed this sentiment.

If you put all these things together, I underscore what Bob said: We still have a low risk to the American public, but we want to keep it at a low risk.  And because there are so many unknowns here, we’re going to take the action that the Secretary will describe, in a temporary way, to make sure we mitigate, as best as we possibly can, this risk.  Thank you.

The message was the same throughout February, with additional travel bans being announced. As of February 23, only 14 confirmed cases related to travel from China were confirmed. Two of them were spousal contacts of someone who had been to China. According to a detailed CDC timeline, it was not until later in February that cases unrelated to travel or another known case began to emerge. Containment and mitigation through quarantine and contact tracing related to travel were no longer sufficient.

On February 26, the first indications of how the disease spread were shared with the public by CDC Deputy Director and Task Force member Dr. Anne Schuchat. This was also the first press conference where the health professionals indicated that the broader American public should take precautions:

The coronavirus that we’re talking about is a respiratory virus.  It’s spread in a similar way to the common cold or to influenza.  It’s spread through coughs and sneezes.

And so those everyday sensible measures that we tell people to do every year with the flu are important here: covering your cough, staying home when you’re sick, and washing your hands.  Tried and true, not very exciting measures, but really important ways that you can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

While Dr. Shuchat did not specifically use the words “droplet transmission,” she put the concept in the context of something most Americans can understand. We are all familiar with colds and the flu and have some idea of how they are transmitted. This information was not withheld from the public once the agencies realized containment alone would not be sufficient.

Harris saying President Trump had super-secret knowledge that was withheld from the American public is nonsense. Airborne transmission through droplets from coughs and sneezes was communicated as soon as the strategy turned from containment and mitigation based on travel and a known infection, to preventing community spread.

We had just over 100 confirmed cases on March 4 when Vice President Pence gave the first specific instructions about handwashing and containment methods. The first mention of social distancing was made on March 9, and the first guidelines aimed at flattening the disease curve for the general public were published to the CDC website on March 10.

To infer that President Trump knew something other than what was communicated by the Task Force is ludicrous. To continue to push the lie is disingenuous.

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