Navarro’s memos laid out in stark terms the catastrophic toll the virus could have — both on American lives and the U.S. economy — and prescribed a number of containment measures that might have seemed drastic at the time but that ultimately came to fruition.
In the first memo, dated Jan. 29, Navarro, a notorious China hawk, argued for an immediate ban on travel from China, then the epicenter of the outbreak. It was a seemingly drastic step that Trump took days later. Though the president has held up the travel ban as evidence that he took the virus seriously from the beginning, and there were confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. at that date, Trump publicly continued to downplay the severity of the threat.
Navarro’s Jan. 29 memo warned that without “aggressive” containment measures like the travel ban that he advocated, the cost to the U.S. economy could soar to nearly $6 trillion, compared with an economic hit of $2.9 billion to $34.6 billion a month with a travel ban in place. The memo also laid out an estimated death toll of up to half a million Americans.
The second memo was dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president directly through the offices of the National Security Council, Trump’s chief of staff and the White House coronavirus task force. That document outlined a request for an “immediate” supplemental appropriation of at least $3 billion. The White House’s first supplemental aid request to Congress, which came days after Navarro’s memo, was drawn down to $2.5 billion, though lawmakers rejected that sum and gave the administration $8 billion to deal with the burgeoning crisis.
“There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls,” the memo warned, referring to the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. It also laid out the levels of expected need for the kinds of medical supplies health care providers have been pleading desperately for over the past few weeks.
Despite the warnings contained in Navarro’s memos, Trump has been insistent in recent weeks that no one “could have known” about the threat posed by the virus, while also asserting that he’d known all along that the initial outbreak in China could have morphed into a global pandemic.