The first confirmed case of a coronavirus infection in the United States was announced on January 21. Two days later, with the World Health Organization recording 581 confirmed cases worldwide, the Chinese government locked down Wuhan and ordered a travel ban. On January 24, the WHO reported 846 cases and warned that the virus was spreading from human to human outside China. In its daily situation report, it wrote, “WHO assesses the risk of this event to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.”
That same day, U.S. senators were invited to a Health Committee briefing on the “novel coronavirus outbreak” from administration officials, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, the most knowledgeable and experienced member of the president’s public health team.
Not long after that briefing, at least a few senators sprang into action. Senator Kelly Loeffler, for example, immediately began dumping stock, making 29 transactions over the following weeks, with the first happening that day. While she engaged in this bit of economic disaster preparedness in private, in public, she did and said nothing to prepare her constituents or the country at large for the potential threat of a global pandemic. Throughout February, her staff pushed out press releases with titles like “Loeffler Cosponsors Legislation to Repeal the Death Tax” and promoted local news appearances like one headlined “Fox 5 Atlanta: Sen. Loeffler Supports Withholding Funds to States Over Drivers’ Licenses.”
Senator Richard Burr also acted decisively, dumping, according to reporting from ProPublica, “between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.” Burr is the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which receives daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus. In January, he had attended the White House briefing with Senator Loeffler. And although Burr was slightly more active about communicating the details of the pandemic than Loeffler was, he, too, did and said nothing that served anyone but himself. On February 7, he (along with Senator Lamar Alexander) published an opinion piece for Fox News insisting that the government was prepared for the threat. “The CDC has developed a diagnostic test that detects coronavirus infections and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is prepared to expedite its review,” they wrote. As The Washington Post would later report, the WHO had by that point shipped 250,000 tests to labs around the world; the CDC had only shipped 160,000 to U.S. labs. Most of those would soon be “deemed unusable,” and “only about 200 of those tests sent to labs would be used.”