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The country now has more than half a million cases, and New York state alone has more cases than any other country.

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

The agreement among the health officials came after they held a tabletop exercise to game out the potential for a full-blown pandemic, the official told CNN.

The public health officials had planned to urge US President Donald Trump to move toward a mitigation strategy after he returned from a trip to India, the administration official said, but that meeting was scrapped after Trump returned to Washington infuriated by a plunging stock market and CDC official Dr. Nancy Messonier’s warning about “severe” disruptions to daily life.

Messonier was merely voicing the consensus among the administration’s public health experts, but she jumped the gun — doing so without getting official buy-in.

The official also confirmed that a February 23 email from a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology sharing a report of potential asymptomatic spread of the disease caused alarm among several top officials, the official said.

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

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