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

President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip 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 bans underage marriages, raises age of consent to 18 Former speed skater launches bid for Stefanik seat Don't let the rule of law become a victim of COVID-19 MORE (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de Blasio43 percent of NYPD employees vaccinated: report The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Israeli politician calls on Ben & Jerry's to 'rethink' ban 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.