Fact-checking Trump on coronavirus: No, the US doesn't have the 'best testing'


'It’s problematic at best and egregious at worst,' one health expert says.

Donald Trump has been holding nightly news conferences to keep the country informed of what the federal government is doing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But those news conferences are often filled with misinformation and outright lies that mislead the public.

Here's this week's running list of Trump's comments, fact-checked for accuracy. 

April 9

"We have the best — right now, the best testing system in the world." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Unlike Trump's claim, the United States has not been the global model for COVID-19 testing.

In fact, the lack of testing for COVID-19 has been one of the biggest criticisms of the Trump administration's response to this pandemic. 

"Unfortunately, states really are on their own," Joia Mukherjee, medical director of Partners in Health, told the Washington Post. "It's problematic at best and egregious at worst, because some states have more resources than others; some states have more leadership than others."

Experts instead point to South Korea — which quickly created tests and ramped up testing capability — as a model for how to avoid the economic devastation the COVID-19 pandemic caused in the United States.

"After the first cases appeared, the South Korean government ramped up testing at a speed almost unimaginable in the United States," Gregg A. Brazinsky, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. "Its swift response slowed the spread of the virus and saved thousands of lives."

Experts now say that a national testing system is needed to allow the United States to ease social distancing measures and return to some semblance of normalcy, CNN reported.

But on Thursday, Trump said a national testing system is "not going to happen."

"We want to have it, and we're going to see if we have it," Trump said at Thursday's news conference of a national testing system. "Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes. We're talking about 325 million people. And that's not going to happen, as you can imagine."

April 8

"When I learned about the gravity of it was sometime just prior to closing the country to China." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump on Wednesday claimed he didn't know how serious the new coronavirus threat was until just before he imposed restrictions on people traveling to the United States from China.

Trump announced travel restrictions on Jan. 31. Those restrictions directed U.S. citizens to one of eight airports in the country that could provide extra screening for the virus. 

But multiple reports suggest Trump had warnings of the peril the novel coronavirus posed days, weeks, and sometimes months, before he says he understood the gravity of the situation.

Two days before Trump announced travel restrictions, his trade adviser Peter Navarro sent a memo saying a "pandemic scenario should not be overlooked," the New York Times reported.

Trump claimed at Wednesday's briefing that he didn't see the memo at the time.

"Peter sends a lot of memos," Trump said. "I didn't see the memo."

ABC News also reported on Wednesday that the intelligence community was warning in November that the coronavirus could cause a "cataclysmic event" — months before Trump said he learned how big of a problem the novel coronavirus posed. 

Not to mention, Reporters were asking Trump about the coronavirus nearly 10 days before his travel restriction announcement — suggesting some in the public were already aware of the potential danger.

"Do you have a plan to contain the coronavirus?" CBS' Paula Reid asked Trump on Jan. 22, almost 10 days before he later said he learned the "gravity" of the situation.

As all of these warnings were coming in, Trump was downplaying the virus, saying he had it "under control" and that the virus was just going to disappear.

April 7

"The cases really didn't build up for a while. " — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump was asked Tuesday about his previous claim that the novel coronavirus would miraculously go away.

Trump insisted that his statement on Feb. 26 that the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States would soon be "close to zero" was not wrong. 

He then defended that comment, saying that the cases "really didn't build up for a while."

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of cases jumped from 15 to over 1,000 just two weeks after Trump made that statement. Further, experts warned from the beginning that the number of cases would increase.

"It's not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference call with reporters on Feb. 25, one day before Trump's claim that the virus wouldn't spread in the United States.

Experts have also said it's possible that the actual number of cases may have been higher, but the country's lack of testing capability impacted the data.

"The WHO, that's the World Health Organization, receives vast amounts of money from the United States. ... We pay for — we give a majority of the money that they get." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump said that the United States supplies the "majority" of WHO's funding.

In actuality, the United States government funded 14.67% of the U.N. health agency's budget in 2018-2019, according to WHO's reporting.

It is true that the United States is the single largest contributor to the organization. The second-largest contributor is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supplies 9.76% of the agency's funding. 

April 6

"Initially speaking, the tests were old, obsolete, and not really prepared" — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump continues to lay blame for his administration's slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic on former President Barack Obama.

At Monday's news conference, Trump again blamed the current lack of testing for the virus on the Obama administration, saying Obama left the Trump administration with "obsolete" tests.

Trump has been making such claims for over a week now.

However, COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel coronavirus — novel meaning the virus is new and has never been seen before.

Obama did not make tests for this virus because it didn't exist when he was president. 

"It's really been performing well. Couple of little glitches, minor glitches, that have already been taken care of." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump on Monday was asked about problems with the Small Business Administration's $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program

The program is part of the $2 trillion rescue package Congress passed in March. It provides loans to businesses to "keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis," the SBA says on its website. 

CNN and several other outlets reported on Monday that there have been problems with the program. Banks have cited a lack of guidance from the federal government on how they should verify information in applications, as well as how they should be distributing the funds for approved applications, among other issues.

Politico also reported that the system the SBA uses to process the loans was crashing, while also requesting information businesses didn’t know they had to provide.

On Tuesday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) admitted there are issues with rolling out the funds.

"Any time you design a program that applies to 90% of the companies in America, and spends $345 billion and has six days to do it, you’re going to have glitches," Rubio said in a video message posted to Twitter. "And that’s what we’re seeing with PPP."

"It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general,' really? It's wrong." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump berated a reporter who asked about a report from the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general that there is a severe shortage of COVID-19 tests at hospitals across the country.

"Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited hospitals' ability to monitor the health of patients and staff," the report said.

Trump said the report is wrong, without providing any evidence to support his claim. 

He also pointed to the fact that it was conducted by an inspector general — or a government watchdog.

Trump has taken issue with inspectors general for simply doing their job in the past.

On Friday, he fired the intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who handed over the complaint that ultimately led to Trump's impeachment to Congress. Atkinson said he "faithfully discharged" his duties when he gave Congress the whistleblower complaint about Trump's scheme to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

And Atkinson told other IGs that the treatment he received for doing his job shouldn't discourage them from carrying out their duties.

"Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices," Atkinson said in a statement.

April 5

"It can help them, but it's not going to hurt them. That's the beauty of it ... what do you have to lose?" — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump on Sunday once again pushed for the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

Discussion of the possible use of the drug came after two small studies from China and France, which some have argued are flawed, found it may help ease symptoms of the disease.

However, the drug has not had clinical trials that prove it is an effective treatment. And another French study found the drug is not effective.

A reporter asked Trump why he is pushing a drug that hasn't been fully tested and vetted for use, which led Trump to claim that the drug cannot hurt someone who takes it.

Trump has been hyping the use of the drug for weeks and even said at a news conference on Saturday that he may take the drug himself — even though he's tested negative for the virus.

"I think people should — if it were me — in fact, I might do it anyway.  I may take it," Trump said. "Okay? I may take it. And I'll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it."

But experts vociferously disagree that the drug is effective or even safe, saying it could have negative consequences — including death.

"Just because a molecule or a drug works in a lab or in a petri dish does not mean that it's going to work on patients," Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said Sunday on CNN. "There could be negative side effects. There could be deaths. This is a new virus and so we should not be promoting any medication or drug for any disease that has not been proven and approved by the FDA."

Axios reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, has pushed back against the administration's hyping of the drug because he believes there needs to be more testing done — a belief that sparked heated blowback from task force member Peter Navarro on Saturday.

Navarro, who is not a doctor, is also pushing for the use of the drug to treat COVID-19, according to the Axios report.

"Our country had the greatest economic boom in history." — Trump at a White House news conference.

A reporter on Sunday asked Trump if he could see a "light at the end of the tunnel" for the country's economy — which has taken a serious blow as the country copes with the spread of COVID-19.

In responding, Trump lied about how strong the economy was prior to the virus.

Trump said he had overseen the "greatest economy boom in history."

Prior to the coronavirus-fueled economic slump, the economy grew 2.9% in 2018, according to data from the World Bank. But that's far from the highest growth rate the United States has seen.

In 2004, the economy saw a 3.7% growth rate, according to the World Bank.

During the technology boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the economy saw a more than 4% annual growth rate.

And in 1984, the economy saw a 7.2% growth rate, according to World Bank data.

April 4

"There'll be a lot of death, unfortunately, but a lot less death than if this wasn't done. But there will be death." — Trump at a White House news conference.

At Saturday's news conference, Trump claimed the measures his administration has taken have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from dying, possibly trying to set expectations for how many people will die from COVID-19.

With a new messaging pivot, Trump and his team have been laying the groundwork to take credit for keeping the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic below the most doom-laden of forecasts.

Without any social distancing measures or other interventions, one model predicted, as many as 2.2 million people could die from the virus in the United States.

With strict social distancing measures in place in most states across the country now, that forecast stands at between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths — more than the death toll from the Vietnam War, Korean War, Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan combined.

Trump wants the country to believe that a death toll below 240,000 is a win for him and his administration.

Yet according to an in-depth look at its response to the pandemic in the Washington Post, the death toll could have been even lower had the Trump administration actually been prepared for a pandemic like COVID-19.

The Washington Post reported that the administration lagged as the novel coronavirus spread, wasting 70 days that could have been used to create and procure diagnostic tests and produce the kind of resources needed to treat patients stricken with the virus, such as personal protective equipment and ventilators. 

Instead, the Trump administration focused on "border control and repatriation," while Trump publicly downplayed COVID-19, letting the virus spread in the United States.

According to the Post's report, which was based on nearly four dozen interviews with administration officials, the slow response is Trump's fault.

"Many of the failures to stem the coronavirus outbreak in the United States were either a result of, or exacerbated by, his leadership," the Post reported.

This list will be updated throughout the week. Past fact checks can be found here.