US overtakes Italy as country with highest number of coronavirus deaths

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An administration official told CNN that the best public health experts in the United States government agreed in the third week of February on the need to start moving away from a strategy of containment and adopt a mitigation strategy that would involve aggressive measures of social distancing.

The agreement between health officials came after they organized a tabletop exercise to highlight the potential of a full-blown pandemic, the official told CNN.

Public health officials had planned to urge US President Donald Trump to adopt a mitigation strategy after he returned from a trip to India, the administration official said, but the meeting was canceled after Trump returns to Washington, furious with a plunging stock market and the CDC’s official warning from Dr. Nancy Messonier about “serious” disruptions in daily life.

Messonier was simply expressing consensus among the administration’s public health experts, but she took the plunge, doing so without obtaining formal endorsement.

The official also confirmed that a February 23 email from a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher sharing a report on the potential asymptomatic spread of the disease had alarmed several senior officials, the official said.

It would take Trump more than three weeks to adopt guidelines on social distancing on March 16.

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