“The U.S. response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort. What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.” – Ron Klain

No matter how much he tries to re-write recent history, or supporters enable his distortion of the truth, the president was aware of the danger from the coronavirus but a lack of leadership has created an emergency of epic proportions.

Trump: everything’s going to be great

Amid the confusion, day-to-day management of the crisis has frequently come directly from Trump himself via his Twitter feed. The president, with more than half an eye on the New York stock exchange, has consistently talked down the scale of the crisis.


Political fact-checkers have flourished under Donald Trump, a president who according to one count uttered more than 16,000 misleading or false claims during his first three years in the White House. The coronavirus outbreak has seen Trump add to that total. Here are some of his most misleading – and most often repeated – claims about COVID-19, his administration’s response to the outbreak and what might lie ahead.

‘Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion’

Trump has repeatedly expressed his surprise at the scale of the coronavirus as it spread around the world and raced across the United States.

“I would view it as something that just surprised the whole world,” he said in a press conference earlier this month. “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion.” In a separate briefing, Trump said: “I just think this is something … that you can never really think is going to happen.”

There is evidence, however, that not only was the Trump administration warned about the potential of a pandemic and its dangers to Americans, it was given a plan on how to deal with it, which it promptly shelved. During the Obama administration, the national security council drew up a 69-page “playbook on fighting pandemics”, Politico has reported.

The document, crafted in the wake of the 2016 Ebola outbreak, contained advice on tracking the spread of a new virus, how to ensure testing was conducted effectively and the need to stockpile emergency resources. The incoming Trump administration was briefed on the playbook but it was was “thrown on to a shelf. This was not the administration’s only insight into the threat posed by a pandemic. In October, an internal federal government report warned how underprepared and underfunded the US would be in terms of tackling a virus without a cure.

‘It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear’

Trump’s reaction to coronavirus has spanned disbelief, a severe understating of the problem and an optimism that appears unmoored from reality. In February, Trump said the virus could “maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.” He predicted it is “going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”

This position has been repeatedly contradicted by public health experts who predicted the sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, blunted only by social distancing measures and the shut down of large gatherings. Even in China, which instituted the most severe crackdown on the movement of people, it has taken several months for cases to start tapering off.

“You’ve got to be realistic, and you’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently.

‘Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We – they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful’

Without basis, Trump has claimed the US has done an excellent job in testing people for the coronavirus. As early as January, the president said the situation was “totally under control”. Just six weeks later the US had emerged as the new global center of the pandemic.

In reality, healthcare providers faced a severe shortage of testing kits as coronavirus hit the US, with the situation exacerbated by faults in the testing system and restrictions on who could actually take a test. A big disparity opened up whereby rich or famous people were able to get tests while others struggled to do so.

Mike Pence, the vice-president, has admitted “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand”. Dr Fauci told a congressional hearing the US system was “not really geared to what we need right now” regarding the test kits. He added: “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”

‘I’ve always known this is a real – this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. I’ve always viewed it as very serious’

As is the case with many of Trump’s statements, his claim he has always taken the pandemic seriously deviates wildly from his previous comments. Perhaps most infamously, Trump said “I don’t take responsibility at all” when asked about the faltering US response.

The president has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by COVID-19, criticizing concern over the crisis as a “hoax”, fretting that letting infected Americans off a cruise ship would increase the number of confirmed cases and claiming that only a couple of Americans had it as cases began to soar across the country. He has compounded this by suggesting social distancing restrictions be lifted around Easter – a timeline wildly out of kilter with public health experts who warn this would cause hospitals to overflow with sick and dying patients.

Americans will have access ‘to vaccines, I think, relatively soon’

In a White House meeting with pharmaceutical company bosses and public health officials, Trump suggested a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available “over the next few months.” He was contradicted by Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, who pointed out: “You won’t have a vaccine. You’ll have a vaccine to go into testing.”

Dr. Fauci and others at the meeting confirmed that clinical trials – standard for any new vaccine – would have to take place first. A vaccine is more likely to be a year or 18 months away. Despite being told this, Trump told a rally in North Carolina on 2 March that there will be a vaccine “relatively soon.”

‘A total vacuum of federal leadership’

In the absence of a strong federal response, a patchwork of efforts has sprouted all across the country. State governors are doing their own thing. Cities, even individual hospitals, are coping as best they can.

“President Trump spent almost two months denying that the virus was a serious problem and spreading incorrect information about it. Since then, he has oscillated between taking sensible measures and continuing to make false statements.” – Dаvіd Lеоnhаrdt

Еd Pіlkіngtоn and Tоm McCаrthy

The White House

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The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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