Public health experts and officials faced a deluge of challenges, almost from the beginning. First there were the problems with the initial coronavirus test kits, which contained an unspecified problem with a compound that prompted inconclusive results; it took experts nearly three weeks of troubleshooting to find a workaround. Initial U.S. guidelines for testing also were overly narrow, only screening individuals who presented with respiratory symptoms and had either recently traveled to China or come in close contact with an infected person.

Infighting quickly materialized among agencies that have long had poor relationships — feuding was especially intense between the CDC and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response — and when the situation went awry, recriminations were swift. Public health officials and experts also struggled to find an uneasy equilibrium between doing their jobs honestly and transparently while trying to manage a mercurial president, who griped about what he viewed as overheated rhetoric by officials and the media…

Several experts said the United States should have spent more time making sure hospitals and state and local health departments had the money, training, personal protective equipment and resources they needed to respond to outbreaks. But the White House’s messaging in January and well into late February that the virus was contained and under control probably led health-care facilities to be insufficiently prepared, these experts added.