- The Obama Administration developed what was called the Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.
- Obama has openly criticized the Trump Administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Trump has accused China of engineering COVID-19 in a laboratory.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump have run very different administrations. They are polar opposites when it comes to their beliefs and policies on almost everything, from foreign policy to healthcare. Another issue they also seem to disagree on is how to handle a pandemic. Here are ten ways Trump and Obama handled pandemics differently:
10. Anticipating a Pandemic
Trump has insisted that no one could have foreseen the emergence of a mass pandemic like COVID-19. But Obama did. In fact, in December 2014, Obama gave a speech to the National Institutes of Health, saying that the U.S. needed to prepare for a pandemic involving a disease that would be both airborne and deadly. While there is no consensus on whether COVID-19 should be considered an airborne virus, it is definitely highly contagious and easily spread.
9. The Man With a Plan vs. The Man With No Plan
Obama took the lessons learned from previous disease threats, such as the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak and the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and had a comprehensive plan prepared to combat a potential pandemic. This plan may have helped Trump and other successors to the presidency combat diseases like COVID-19. But Trump ignored the plan and didn’t create one of his own.
8. Reacting Quickly vs. Reacting Slowly
President Obama did face the threat of pandemics, though they came from diseases that were not as contagious as COVID-19. In 2009, when Swine Flu first appeared in Mexico, Obama immediately told every federal agency to prepare plans for a potential pandemic. Then, less than two weeks after the first case of the disease was confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) started releasing personal protective equipment (PPE) from its stockpile and had already begun work on a vaccine. In that same timeframe, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also approved a test to detect the disease. When the Ebola outbreak hit Africa in 2014, Obama was again right on top of it, sending health experts to countries in Africa to help contain the disease. But fast forward to 2020, and Trump was very slow to react to COVID-19. Indeed, it was two months into the pandemic before his administration began purchasing PPE to bolster the CDC’s stockpile, leading to shortages in American hospitals.
7. Taking the Threat Seriously, or Downplaying It?
Obama’s quick reaction to the threats of Swine Flu and Ebola during his presidency, not to mention his eagerness to prepare for future pandemic threats, shows that he took the issue seriously. Trump, on the other hand, chose to ignore the matter. In fact, despite repeated warnings by experts, going as far back as 2017, Trump did not see a problem. And even when COVID-19 was starting to ravage the U.S., the president tried to downplay it.
6. Listening to the Experts?
As previously mentioned, Obama had experts come up with a plan on how to respond to future pandemic threats. Before he left office, officials in his administration briefed the aides of incoming President Trump, warning them about the possibility of a pandemic similar to the one that occurred in 1918 from the Spanish Flu. But Trump did not heed these warnings. In fact, he has even ignored and contradicted officials in his own administration, who have attempted to advise him on how to cope with COVID-19.
Trump has often been accused of creating his own facts and spreading misinformation. He famously suggested that people inject disinfectant products into themselves to cure them of the coronavirus. He also suggested that a drug used to combat malaria, hydroxychloroquine, was effective against COVID-19, even though many health experts refute this and even suggest that taking it could have dangerous side effects. Obama was not known for this kind of behavior.
4. Taking Charge vs. Passing the Buck
Trump has criticized his predecessor, Barack Obama, for making the U.S. ill-prepared to handle a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19. But his criticism is not backed up by facts. Contrary to what Trump says, the Obama Administration made a concerted effort to prepare the U.S. for the threat of pandemics.
3. Funding Efforts Against Pandemics…or Lack Thereof
During the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Obama gave emergency funding to the tune of $5.4 billion in order to combat the disease. Trump has not been as generous. For example, when Health and Human Services Secretary, Adam Azar, asked the Trump Administration for $2 billion to replenish the country’s stockpile of medical equipment and supplies, the president turned him down, offering only $500 million.
2. Cooperation vs. Confrontation
For better or for worse, Obama was a president who tried to work with international organizations. Trump, on the other hand, is very critical and distrustful of them. This may be the reason why the CDC did not adopt the test used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to detect COVID-19, and instead, tried to create their own, which led to delays in rolling out test kits in the U.S. Trump has singled out the WHO in much of his criticism during the pandemic.
1. Respect for Science…or Not
Obama’s efforts to prepare the U.S. for a pandemic were largely guided by scientific advisors, such as those who sat on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In contrast, Trump has often been accused of ignoring science and dismantling the executive branch’s science infrastructure.