- President Donald Trump said on Monday that on a scale of 1 to 10, he’d give himself a perfect 10 for his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- But public-health experts and a presidential historian fervently disagreed with Trump’s assessment of his response to a pandemic the likes of which haven’t been seen in a century. They gave the president grades from a B-minus to a D-minus.
- They credited Trump for forming a task force of some of the country’s leading medical experts but said that his comments misled and confused Americans for weeks and that his administration lost valuable time to develop and spread tests for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
- “The Trump administration’s response has been abysmal. It’s hard to imagine how they could’ve done it worse,” Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Insider.
- Trump “fundamentally does not understand that his job is to protect the entire nation, not his presidency,” Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian, told Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump on Monday said his response to the coronavirus pandemic so far deserved a perfect score.
When asked at a White House press conference how he’d grade his handling of the pandemic, Trump said: “I’d rate it at 10. I think we’ve done a great job.”
After weeks of Trump’s downplaying the threat of the novel coronavirus, contradicting his own advisers, and misstating the number of US cases and spread anticipated by scientists, public-health experts and a presidential historian gave Trump a dismal review as the US begins grappling with a crisis that could affect daily life for months.
“The Trump administration’s response has been abysmal. It’s hard to imagine how they could’ve done it worse,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Insider.
Grading the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak from A to F, Jha said it would be hard to justify giving the president and his team anything above a D.
All the experts consulted by Insider credited Trump for forming a task force of some of the country’s leading medical experts. But they said Trump was a “bad role model” whose rhetoric has contradicted these officials and who has personally failed to follow the recommended precautions. The biggest failure is the shortage of testing kits for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Lees ook op Business Insider
“We’re still the only major country in the world that cannot do widespread testing for coronavirus for people who are sick,” Jha said. “That’s insane … given our technical and scientific capacity.”
This is not a partisan position, Jha said, adding that several Republican governors had done a “fabulous job” handling the pandemic thus far – better than many Democratic governors.
“We’re starting to get slowly better. But, my goodness, we’ve wasted two months. And this is not a disease where you’re allowed to waste two months,” he added.
Amid reports of a respiratory-illness outbreak in China in December, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert on January 8. In late January, Trump imposed restrictions on air travel from China. But experts said the administration lost valuable time in attaining COVID-19 tests and preparing hospitals and healthcare systems for an influx of patients.
As Trump declared a national emergency last week, he was asked whether he felt responsible for the lag in testing. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump replied. A week earlier, he’d called the test kits “beautiful” and falsely said that “anybody that needs a test gets a test.”
Trump says "I don't take responsibility at all" when asked about the delay in coronavirus tests pic.twitter.com/rJYEo7Gfpu
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) March 13, 2020
‘2 months of completely ignoring every bit of scientific advice’
Beyond the shortfall in testing, which has been linked to faulty test kits sent by the CDC in February, Jha said the administration’s coronavirus messaging had been “terrible.”
Jha, a general internist who received his MD from Harvard Medical School, excoriated Trump for painting a rosy picture by repeatedly telling the public that everything was “under control,” even as the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the US were rising and it “was very clear to anybody paying attention that it was not under control.”
On February 26, Trump said that there were 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and that they would be “close to zero” in a “couple of days.” But there were actually at least 60 confirmed cases in the US at the time, and that number was expected to rise.
“We do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare,” said Anne Schuchat, a senior CDC official, who was standing a few feet from Trump at that press conference.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 4,400 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the US and at least 86 people had died.
Trump “believed if you don’t test, and you don’t look for the infection, and you argue that it doesn’t exist, that somehow it will be so,” Jha said.
“The virus is one those few things where facts at the end of the day will prevail,” Jha added. “You can’t ignore your way out of a pandemic.”
Jha said that “two months of completely ignoring every bit of scientific advice” was “a shocking level of incompetence.”
“I don’t use these words lightly, and it’s incredibly painful for me to say it,” he said, adding: “The cost of all of this is that tens of thousands of Americans are going to die unnecessarily … It was wholly preventable, and not just preventable in hindsight – it was preventable in foresight. Everybody said this is how it was going to play out if they didn’t act.”
‘A bad role model’
Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law School, told Insider he would give the Trump administration a grade of B-minus and “no more” for its response to the outbreak.
“The rollout of testing was badly flawed,” Gostin said. “The health messaging has been confusing and inconsistent.”
Trump has been a “passive bystander instead of a leader,” Gostin added, pointing to the president’s lack of guidance or proposals to Congress about emergency funding or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Lawmakers in both parties said Trump’s request in late February for $2.5 billion to fight the outbreak was wholly inadequate, and they more than tripled the funding for vaccines, tests, and treatments.
“Most importantly,” Gostin said, Trump “has been a bad role model.” He cited Trump’s reluctance to be tested and his refusal to adhere to advice from public-health officials, such as avoiding shaking hands.
But Gostin said that “the major positive action” from the Trump administration thus far was convening “a world-class public-health task force.”
Echoing Gostin’s sentiment, Jha said that among the few commendable aspects of Trump’s handling of the outbreak was the decision to tap Dr. Deborah Birx to be the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
Birx, who served as a US Army physician before becoming a leading figure in the fight against HIV, is “as good as they get,” Jha said.
He added that it had been reassuring to see Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases (who was already a public-health hero before the coronavirus outbreak), be part of the inner circle. “There is nobody better as a national spokesperson in a moment like this than Tony Fauci,” Jha said.
But even with a top-notch team of experts behind Trump, there are concerns that his confusing rhetoric and weeks of downplaying the risks have led to many Americans not taking necessary steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“I don’t blame Americans who are not taking this very seriously – I blame the political leaders for not having clear messaging,” Jha said, citing the example of Trump saying in late February that COVID-19 is “like a flu,” when the symptoms are different and the death rate is far higher.
“If I was advising President Trump, what I would say is: Stop talking. Have Tony Fauci and Debbie Birx do the briefings every day, and let them run the show. And you tell the federal agencies that they have your backing,” Jha added.
In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released on Tuesday, 60% of respondents said they had very little trust or none at all in what Trump says about COVID-19.
‘His job is to protect the entire nation, not his presidency’
During crises, presidents are expected to display basic competence and instill a sense of confidence in Americans.
Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian and the director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History, told Insider he’d give Trump a D-minus for his response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The confidence is not necessarily that we will get through this without pain, but that we will all get through this together as a nation. I don’t think Trump has accomplished that in the least,” Engel said. “He’s continued to offer misstatements and fabrications, in direct contradiction to his own experts.”
Trump “fundamentally does not understand that his job is to protect the entire nation, not his presidency,” Engel said, pointing to reports of Trump’s fixation with case totals and public perception.
The president said in early March that he’d rather have passengers remain on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was experiencing a coronavirus outbreak, than come ashore and raise the number of cases in the US. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”
"I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship" — Trump explains that he doesn't want to let people off the Grand Princess cruise ship because he doesn't want the number of coronavirus cases in the country to go up pic.twitter.com/ELhZDjiZW9
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2020
Through the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have witnessed perhaps the most profound example to date of the erosion of US global leadership during the Trump era, Engel said.
During a rare Oval Office address last Wednesday, Trump announced new restrictions on travel from Europe and referred to the coronavirus as a “foreign virus,” which Engel said was antithetical to everything the US has stood for since World War II.
“Trump’s response – and we saw this in his Oval Office address most explicitly – was to blame the outside world, and to blame foreigners, and to say the solution for America is to shut ourselves out from the rest,” Engel said. “That is exactly the opposite lesson of America since 1945.”