Fox News figures have praised President Donald Trump and his administration for their handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak, designated COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, and has caused the deaths of more than 2,400 people and infected nearly 80,000 people worldwide. But reporting from reliable news outlets has shown that Trump left America vulnerable to a possible pandemic.
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that hasn’t been seen in humans before, but it has similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Since it was first reported in China on December 31, it has spread to many other countries around the world despite a massive quarantine effort by China. Outbreaks have been reported recently in Italy, South Korea, and Iran, and there are also at least 53 cases of infection in the United States.
Trump’s initial reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak was to downplay concerns about it, telling CNBC in a January interview that it was “totally under control” and “it’s going to be just fine.” Trump also claimed the disease would “miraculously” go away by April -- which was contradicted by the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And two weeks after hundreds of Americans were trapped on a cruise ship in a Japanese port under quarantine because some passengers tested positive for COVID-19, the Trump administration evacuated them to the U.S. But the administration flew home passengers it knew were infected on a flight with other uninfected passengers, against the CDC’s advice -- a decision which reportedly angered Trump, who wasn’t informed about that decision and who said he should have been the one to make it.
Fox hosts and contributors have taken to praising Trump and the administration since the American cruise ship passengers were evacuated to the U.S.:
- On February 17, Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said he “can’t believe how well” the administration is handling the outbreak, describing the decision to fly infected cruise ship passengers to the U.S. as “not ideal, but it shows our commitment to our citizens.”
- An hour later during the same program, Fox Business host Charles Payne pointed to an opinion poll to tout the president’s handling of the outbreak.
- The next evening, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs offered congratulations to acting Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, “to the administration, and to the president for what you are doing, because within this country, it seems to be under control and every safeguard taken.”
- In a later segment, Dobbs again praised Trump, saying, “The government has done an amazing job, I think, in constraining the spread of the virus into this country.”
- On February 20, Siegel said Trump’s “leadership on this has been tremendous,” with Dobbs adding, “I think it’s being managed well. The results speak for themselves.”
- The following afternoon, after reports came out that the administration flew home infected Americans together with uninfected passengers against the CDC’s advice, Siegel again praised the administration: “I think the task force appointed by the president is doing a very good job. The head of the CDC is a virologist, ... he’s got many decades of experience on this.”
But reporting from news outlets that aren’t propaganda organs for Trump shows that this praise is misplaced.
A January 31 Foreign Policy article explained that the Trump administration “intentionally rendered itself incapable” of containing a major virus outbreak in America:
In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.
In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.
Trump’s latest budget proposal contains $3 billion in cuts to global health funds, including half of the U.S.’s annual funding to the World Health Organization. Trump’s budget also calls for a 10% cut to the CDC’s funding. And though Trump is set to ask Congress for emergency funds to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak -- after weeks of failing to do so -- some public health officials say he won’t ask for enough to do the job.
Other problems with Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak include the initial decision to leave all those American passengers on the cruise ship for two weeks, which an infectious disease expert called “one of the cruelest human experiments I've seen in my entire career.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that Trump administration officials failed to attend a Homeland Security committee meeting about the deadly disease, and Trump seemingly succumbed to political pressure to change the administration’s plan to quarantine some of the infected cruise ship passengers at a former Army base in Alabama.