While speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon at the White House, President Donald Trump made a false claim about the Obama administration’s handling of the H1N1 flu (also commonly known as “swine flu”) back in 2009. And there’s a good bet that he’s learned this latest fiction from Fox News — and his favorite host, Sean Hannity.
“If you go back and look at the swine flu, and what happened with the swine flu,” Trump said, “you'll see how many people died, and how actually nothing was done for such a long period of time, as people were dying all over the place. We're doing it the opposite. We're very much ahead of everything.”
As Media Matters has previously documented, Hannity and other right-wing personalities and outlets have circulated a lie that the Obama administration had done nothing about H1N1 — waiting six months to declare a national emergency, they say — while Americans died in vast numbers. In fact, this is totally false, and it also relies on obfuscations based around bureaucratic terms of art and specific effects on government regulations.
The Obama administration declared a public health emergency in April 2009, for the purpose of freeing up funds for emergency preparedness. Then came an official national emergency declaration in October 2009, which also served a specific regulatory purpose by waiving certain federal requirements to allow hospitals and local governments to set up alternate treatment sites. And in the interim, the government had been working with researchers on developing a vaccine for the H1N1 strain and coordinating its launch in the fall.
In fact, just on Wednesday night, Hannity repeated the charge of Obama waiting to declare a national emergency. And while briefly acknowledging the health emergency early on, he threw in yet another lie.
A public health emergency for Swine Flu, also known as H1N1, was declared on April 26, 2009 by the Obama administration with no deaths in the U.S. (see here). While Obama personally declared H1N1 an emergency in October 2009, when over a thousand had died (see here), the “Secretary of Health and Human Services first declared a public health emergency” on April 26, 2009. Statements that say Obama and his administration waited until 1,000 had died before declaring an emergency often ignore this April 26, 2009 Government announcement (see it here). The claim that there were 1,000 deaths when a public health emergency was declared under Obama’s administration is therefore false.
One has to wonder: Was Trump watching Hannity last night and repeating the charge today? (Before Hannity’s repetition of the lie Wednesday night, it was being spread anew on Twitter by right-wing activist Charlie Kirk and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.)
The H1N1 pandemic was a highly prevalent infection, with a later analysis showing it had infected 1 in 5 people worldwide. However, its death rate was very low, estimated at only 0.02% (around 200,000 deaths globally and 12,000 in the United States). By contrast, COVID-19 appears to be much more dangerous among the infected population so far, with a currently estimated mortality rate of 1%, or 10 times the normal flu.