If Obama deserves criticism for taking 19 days to ship out tests, and if Cuomo is at fault for not buying extra ventilators four years ago, then Trump’s negligence in preparing for and responding to this crisis deserves far more condemnation. In the past three years, the president has ignored multiple direct warnings—briefings, reports, simulations, intelligence assessments—that a pandemic was likely and that the government didn’t have enough masks, ventilators, or antiviral drugs to deal with it. His administration was told exactly what to do: second-guess case detection rates, prepare rapid production of tests, and line up extra funding and personal protective equipment. He did none of it. He stiffed a budget request for preparedness funds, and he disbanded the National Security Council unit in charge of pandemics.
Once the pandemic arrived, Trump responded far more slowly than Obama did. Trump’s administration learned of the outbreak in China around New Year’s Day, but he brushed off briefings about it, figuring it hadn’t spread in the United States. (The CDC offered to send its own experts to China, but China refused, and Trump—overriding advice and U.S. intelligence—backed off.) On Jan. 21, the CDC reported the first known American infection. But in an interview on CNBC, Trump scoffed, “It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Data released by the World Health Organization showed the coronavirus was killing victims at a far higher rate than swine flu did. (That remains true, even though calculated mortality rates from the coronavirus have declined.) But the Trump administration didn’t declare a public health emergency until Jan. 31. The president had to be pushed to ban travelers from China, and he did nothing domestically.