Conflicting signals cast doubt on Trump team’s coronavirus response

Jarring contradictions in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus are casting doubt on its capacity to tackle an outbreak that officials say is now certain to reach US soil. 

While President Donald Trump is reassuring the nation that the virus is “going to go away” and is “very well under control,” experts in his government are painting a far more dire picture.

A top US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination expert warned Tuesday that the virus could bring severe disruption to American life and told people to get ready now.

The disconnect between Dr. Nancy Messonnier’s comments and Trump’s stance raised the question of how the President will respond, given his history of turning on officials who contradict his views with evidence-based reasoning.

Nervousness on Capitol Hill was exacerbated by a string of developments that appeared to reflect Messonnier’s assessment of the situation better than the President’s rosier commentary. 

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” she said. 

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said. “I continue to hope that in the end we’ll look back and feel like we are overprepared, but that is a better place to be in than being underprepared.” 

So far, Trump’s political interests appear to have led the President to seek to minimize the threat from the virus and the chances of it evolving into an epidemic on American soil. 

But fast-moving developments mean that Trump looks behind the curve of the growing threat to the United States — a dangerous position for a President who is seeking a second term. Democrats, apparently looking for vulnerabilities, are warning that his administration is asleep as a possible pandemic builds. 

In the next few days, the President’s political interests may dictate a far more proactive attitude, given that a crisis that rages out of control could taint his White House with a reputation for incompetence.