President Donald Trump on Friday criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being ill-prepared to test for the coronavirus and he blamed former President Barack Obama for the situation.
“For decades the @CDCgov looked at, and studied, its testing system, but did nothing about it. It would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic, but a pandemic would never happen, they hoped. President Obama made changes that only complicated things further,” he wrote.
In a follow-up tweet, Trump continued his broadside: “Their response to H1N1 Swine flu was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now. The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!”
During the announcement on Friday afternoon that he would be declaring a national emergency, Trump again assigned blame to others.
“No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said about the delays. “Because we were given a set of circumstances.”
On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified at a House hearing that the U.S. has failed to meet the capacity for testing.
“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” he said. “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”
Two issues have led to the slow process in testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. One was that the CDC had initially put out narrow guidelines for who could be considered for testing. Those criteria were eventually expanded and so far about 11,000 specimens have been tested, according to the agency. South Korea, on the other hand, has been testing nearly 20,000 people each day for the disease, according to reports.
There were also technical issues with the test kits in which they tested for more than just the coronavirus, and the glitch affected the integrity of the kit.
Trump tweeted Thursday that “Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 epidemic which killed thousands of people,” and said that “the response was one of the worst on record.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates responded that Trump should focus on fighting the current outbreak instead of “desperately tweeting lies about the Obama-Biden Administration.”
From an AP Fact check:
His newfound disdain for the CDC’s actions and his criticisms of Obama and Biden are based on a faulty description of what happened in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, initially called “swine flu.”
Then, the CDC’s flu surveillance network actually sounded the alarm, spotting two children in California who were the first diagnosed cases of the new flu strain. About two weeks later, the U.S. declared a public health emergency and CDC began releasing anti-flu drugs from the national stockpile to help hospitals get ready. Trump declared a state of emergency Friday, seven weeks after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was announced.
Testing wasn’t the primary concern then. The huge challenge was finding a vaccine.
The new flu popped up in April, too late to insert into vaccine already being brewed for that fall. Switching strains was scientifically doable but it took months to grow the new flu virus in eggs and extract it to make a second, separate vaccine that didn’t become available until November, when the new flu was waning.
That vaccine delay prompted the CDC and National Institutes of Health to spur research into new ways to make flu vaccine faster, by skipping having to grow the virus in eggs. Today egg-based shots still are most common but there are some faster-to-produce competitors. And NIH is pursuing a universal flu vaccine that one day might cover all strains in one dose, but is still years away.
On the testing front, 2009 does offer a bit of caution. While CDC’s lab test didn’t have the types of problems it has had with COVID-19, the agency did warn that some “rapid” tests that doctors used varied in accuracy. So far there are no rapid tests for COVID-19.
As for thousands dying, it actually turned out that the new H1N1 strain was less deadly than average seasonal flu. But even that comparison is problematic, because regular flu years are deadliest for the elderly while H1N1 was riskiest for younger people.
Trump’s accusation that Obama introduced further complications appears to refer to a false point he has made before.
Food and Drug Administration guidance drafted during the Obama administration called for tighter regulation of so-called laboratory-developed tests, a market traditionally not overseen by the agency. Trump says that step made it more difficult to come out with a coronavirus test. But that guidance never took effect. And if it had, it would not have applied to public health emergencies like the current one.