Medical staff in New York amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Image: AP/Mary Altaffer)

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic. The same day the number of confirmed cases in the United States passed 1000. Fewer than 40 Americans were known to have died from the disease.

That evening, then-president Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office. In typical Trump fashion his speech was littered with hubris and falsehoods. Having downplayed the virus for several weeks, wrongly comparing it to the flu and asserting "like a miracle, it will disappear", Trump boasted about his team being the "best anywhere in the world", blamed the European Union for permitting the spread of the virus into the United States, and without any consultation declared that all travel from Europe to America would be suspended two days later.

Trump's pronouncement sparked an immediate panic as Americans abroad scrambled to secure flights home to avoid being stranded. While the order was soon amended to exempt American citizens and residents, it still resulted in thousands flooding airports nationwide without masks, social distancing, or any other checks or safeguards. It was the perfect petri dish for supercharging the virus' spread.