Trump repeats lie from Sean Hannity about Obama and the H1N1 flu

Serious question: In the middle of crisis, was Trump watching Hannity last night?

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.”

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Citation From the March 12, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered

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.

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Citation From the March 11, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Hannity

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): For more perspective, we go back to 2009. That year, more than a thousand Americans had died in a six-month period from H1N1, better known as swine flu, that virus, and 20,000 Americans had contracted the pandemic before President Obama himself declared a national emergency. One of his health officials on day 11 did, in fact, say it was an emergency to release some funding. Got to tell the truth on all cases, but a thousand Americans at that point had died.

In fact, at the time of the public health emergency declaration in April 2009, there had been just 20 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the United States — and no deaths.

From a Reuters fact check, published two days ago:

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.