Trump calls study on taking earlier action against coronavirus a 'political hit job'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE on Thursday dismissed as a "political hit job" a Columbia University study that showed thousands of lives lost to the coronavirus could have been saved with earlier social distancing measures.

The president defended his actions to combat the pandemic after The New York Times published findings from the university's disease modelers that roughly 36,000 fewer people in the U.S. would have died from COVID-19 if the country imposed restrictions just one week earlier.

"I was so early. I was earlier than anybody thought. I put a ban on people coming in from China," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Michigan.

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"Columbia is an institution that's very liberal," he added. "I think it's just a political hit job, you want to know the truth."

The Columbia research team's findings reflect the human cost of government leaders waiting to lock down cities and urge Americans to physically distance themselves in the early days of the pandemic.

Most states and major cities imposed restrictions in mid-March that shuttered businesses and urged residents to shelter in place. The university study found that by early May about 54,000 fewer people would have died from the virus had those policies been put in place on March 1.

The study gauged how reduced contact between people in mid-March slowed the spread of the virus, according to The New York Times, and models what would have happened if those same shifts in behavior happened one or two weeks sooner.

Jeffrey Shaman, who led the Columbia University study, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump's statement.

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There are more than 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of mid-day Thursday, and nearly 94,000 have died from the virus.

Trump spent much of January and February downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, likening it to the common flu and insisting the number of cases in the U.S. would soon drop to close to zero. The administration banned travel from China for non-U.S. citizens in late January, and expanded the ban to include Europe, Canada and Mexico in mid-March.

New York leaders have also faced criticism for downplaying the pandemic in its early stages. Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOvernight Healthcare: Fauci says coronavirus task force activity 'intense' despite decreased visibility These cities removed police officers over excessive force in George Floyd protests 57 Buffalo officers resign from Emergency Response Team after two cops suspended MORE (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioMedia executives, personalities eyeing possible run for New York City mayor NYT editorial board tells de Blasio to 'open your eyes, the police are out of control' Minneapolis, other cities consider cuts to police budgets MORE (D) initially encouraged residents not to let the virus impact their daily lives, but later took on a much more serious tone as it became evident the disease was spreading throughout the city.