Two months before the coronavirus outbreak in China, the administration ended a USAID project used to track and research diseases that move from animal to human hosts. The program had enjoyed support under both Bush and Obama, especially from President George W. Bush who was very concerned about pandemic readiness. On February 10, 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, President Trump had proposed 2021 budget proposed cuts to global health programs in the magnitude of $3 billion, including substantial cuts to the CDC budget and US contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO).
On February 24, the Trump administration asked Congress for $2.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the international coronavirus pandemic. Two days later, on February 26, President Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The President declared that the "risk to the American people remains very low". Congress appropriated $8.3 billion in emergency funding, which President Trump signed into law on March 6.
The U.S. government was quick to develop a diagnostic test for the coronavirus, but testing efforts in the United States from mid-January to late-February failed to keep pace with the rest of the world. Many of the test kits which the CDC had produced were defective and as a result, fewer than 4,000 tests were done in the U.S. by February 27. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged on March 12 that it was "a failing" of the U.S. system that demand for coronavirus tests were not being met, adding that he believed the private sector should have been brought in sooner. When President Trump was asked by the media if he would take responsibility for the lack of tests, he declared: "No, I don't take responsibility at all". He gave his administration's overall coronavirus response a score of 10/10.
From January 2020 to mid-March 2020, President Trump tried to downplay the threat posed by the coronavirus in the United States. He initially said he had no worries about the coronavirus becoming a pandemic and assured the nation that the situation was "under control". He accused Democrats and media outlets of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation, describing Democrats' criticism of his administration's response as a "hoax". But on March 16, he acknowledged that the coronavirus was "not under control", the situation was "bad" with months of impending disruption to daily lives, and added that a recession might occur. Earlier, on March 11, he announced a travel ban between Europe and the United States. As Americans abroad scrambled to get flights back to the United States, the administration clarified that the travel ban applied only to foreigners. Previously, in late January 2020, the administration banned travel to the US from China, however major U.S. carriers had already announced that they would no longer fly to and from China. On March 13, President Trump designated the coronavirus pandemic as a national emergency.
On March 26, the U.S. became the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, with over 82,000 cases. By April 11, the U.S. became the country with the highest official death toll for COVID-19, with over 20,000 deaths. Severe shortages of test supplies in hospitals and extended waits for results, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and other strained resources were reported.
The Trump administration replaced Christi Grimm as Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services after she produced a report documenting severe shortages of medical supplies in U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 cases increased. In June 2020, amid surges in coronavirus case numbers, Trump administration officials claimed that the steep rise was due to increased testing. As of July 29, 2020, there are 4,535,577 coronavirus cases reported and 153,100 deaths from the virus.
From the earliest times, George Washington and other founding fathers had to confront smallpox and yellow fever with primitive vaccination techniques. The 19th century had outbreaks of typhoid fever and cholera that may have even taken the lives of three presidents. These and other diseases such as tuberculosis, and diphtheria also spread throughout the nation at various times, bringing death and devastation to families, including first families, with a number of children of Presidents claimed by these illnesses over the years.
In the early part of the 20th century, while much of the world was at war, the most devastating pandemic since the plagues of medieval times struck, a strain of influenza which unfairly became known as the Spanish Flu. Significant lessons were learned, including the importance of social distancing and other healthy practices that could be employed to restrain the spread of the disease. The importance of the distribution of public notice about the spread of these viruses and the folly of attempting to hush up any bad news was a lesson learned, and often learned the hard way. The influenza was misnamed the Spanish Flu because only the King of Spain had the good sense to publicly tell the world that the virus was claiming the lives of his citizens (and which he personally experienced), while other world leaders operated under the misguided notion that this was somehow an important state secret. We have since learned that covering up such news only empowers the ability of the virus to be spread among an ignorant populace and is one of the worst possible strategies for the problem.
In the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of this century, new diseases and viruses would have to be confronted. Poliomyelitis, malaria, rubella, HIV/aids, swine flu, Zika, SARS, MERS and other challenging medical emergencies would confront Presidents and their citizens. One president, Franklin Roosevelt, would excel in leading his nation through difficult times, while suffering from what was believed to have been polio (though this may have been a misdiagnosis). That he had to hide his condition from the public is a shameful testament to the power of groundless prejudice.
Sometimes Presidents were slow learners, though eventually the message would get through. Dwight Eisenhower was reluctant to get vaccinated for the so-called "Asian Flu" until it was pointed out to him that as a senior citizen with a history of heart problems, he was in a high risk demographic, and perhaps his example of getting vaccinated might save the lives of others in similar positions. George W. Bush transitioned from initially being unconcerned about the challenge of pandemics until a book about the 1918-20 pandemic opened his eyes and led him to become perhaps the most enlightened president of our lifetime when it came to appreciating the need for proper planning for the pandemic that was yet to come.
Other times in history, presidents have been too quick to react, as may have been the case when the Gerald Ford administration pressed for release of a vaccine for Swine Flu that was not properly tested and may have led to an increase in cases of another disease, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a condition which can cause paralysis, respiratory arrest, and death. Over 25% of the population received the deficient vaccine before the error was corrected, sowing the seeds of an anti-vaccination movement that still exists today.
Throughout history there have been many occasions when science has saved the day for those ravaged by pandemics, by development of safe and effective vaccines. This was the case as early as the 18th century when Edward Jenner developed a smallpox vaccine that saved many from an early death. Vaccines for polio, developed by Jonas Salk and later by Albert Sabin, have practically eliminated a condition that frightened many 20th century parents, and it was the development of a vaccine that put an end to concerns about the "Spanish Flu" and many subsequent viruses. It is the hope and expectation of many people that the development of a vaccine for Covid-19 will be the last chapter in what has become one of the strangest times in our lives.