The White House ordered for dozens of top-level meetings about the novel coronavirus to be classified, a move that may have hampered the country’s ability to contain the now-pandemic, Reuters reports. The information comes from four anonymous administration officials who say that the meetings covered issues such as quarantines, travel restrictions, and the number of infections.
According to the officials, meetings have been held in a high-security room in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would normally be used for intelligence and military operations. HHS is in charge of several health agencies, most notably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is responsible for restricting the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
The desire for secrecy meant that “very critical people,” including government experts without security clearance, were not able to attend the meetings, according to one source. A senior lawyer, for example, was prevented from being able to attend and provide input about a quarantine because he did not have the security clearance, despite having the required expertise. This delayed his input, which was later delivered at an unclassified meeting, according to Reuters.
Sources claim that the instruction to classify the meetings came from the National Security Council, which advises President Trump on issues of security. “This came directly from the White House,” Reuters reports one official as saying. One source was reportedly told that the meetings had been classified because they “had to do with China,” but another official speculated that it had more to do with preventing leaks than with protecting national security.
It’s a concerning report about an administration that has already faced fierce criticism over its handling of COVID-19. Its slowness in testing for the virus is believed to have hampered containment during the critical early stages, and there still aren’t enough test kits to keep up with demand. The administration has also been criticized for side-lining experts and keeping state and local officials in the dark about the federal response to the virus. Most worryingly, administration officials, including Trump, have made misleading or incorrect statements about the virus and the potential for a vaccine.
Yesterday, Trump banned most travel from Europe for 30 days in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.