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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts 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 CuomoNew York reports 1,000 daily new COVID-19 cases for first time since June Overnight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump MORE (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYC principals call on state to take control of city's schools, vote 'no confidence' in de Blasio OVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities 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.