The Slatest

Trump Administration Nixed Key CDC Job in China Months Before the Coronavirus Outbreak

A worker wears a protective suit as he disinfects a hospital room.
A worker wears a protective suit as he disinfects a room in the Wuhan No.7 hospital in Wuhan, China, on Thursday. STR/Getty Images

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak began, the Trump administration has complained that China was not as forthcoming as it could have been with information in the initial weeks. But the United States could have had someone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the ground who may very well have been able to detect hints of the coronavirus outbreak earlier. If the White House hadn’t eliminated the position that is. The Trump administration nixed the position of the medical epidemiologist who was embedded in China’s disease control agency months before COVID-19 began spreading, reports Reuters. “It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Bao-Ping Zhu, who served in the role between 2007 and 2011. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.”

Of course there are no guarantees the American expert would have been able to get any information from the notoriously tight-lipped Chinese authorities. But considering the person who held the role, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of the very epidemiologists sent to the center of outbreaks to investigate and track diseases she “was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier,” notes Reuters. She left in July after she learned her position was going to be discontinued in September.

The CDC insists that eliminating the position did not hurt its ability to get information and “had absolutely nothing to do with CDC not learning of cases in China earlier.” Quick, who still works at the CDC, was not made available to comment for the article.

President Donald Trump was asked about the issue in the Sunday news briefing, and he characterized it as another attack by the media. “This is just like all the other stuff … that the press was asking,” Trump said. “Every one of those things that were said were 100 percent wrong and this sounds like another one of them.” He then handed it over to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, who did not dispute the story but insisted “the China office is actually being augmented as we speak.”