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President Donald Trump stands as Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020. AP Photo/Alex Brandon President Donald Trump stands as Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump stands as Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Emily Venezky
By Emily Venezky April 21, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • An ad from Democratic super PAC Priorities USA outlines a timeline of coronavirus warnings and how Donald Trump ignored them.

  • Some of the dates or numbers are correct, but some are selected to put Trump in the worst possible light.

  • The CDC and WHO did not predict how far COVID-19 would spread in January, and Trump’s administration did take some steps to mitigate the spread in January and February.

Priorities USA, a large Democratic super PAC, has been releasing a slew of ads featuring individual Americans talking about COVID-19. Some are about personal medical problems and social distancing; others are with health care professionals talking about supply shortages. 

One ad features Frank Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University.

Mora’s first line is "President Trump’s response to the pandemic crisis has been, to say the least, disappointing."

The ad goes back and forth between Mora talking directly to the camera, news clips and dates from the last three months. Mora’s voiceover says that Trump and his administration’s action against the coronavirus were too late and that there were signs that COVID-19 was a threat to Americans early on. 

The ads use the same slogan: "Donald Trump keeps failing us. America is paying the price."

The Florida ad with Mora is partially accurate but it also cherry-picks dates and exaggerates to make the case that Trump didn’t take enough action.

"We have known since December the threat that this virus represents to global health"

This is an exaggeration. Mora is referring to a WHO news release from Jan. 5 that said China informed the organization that there were pneumonia cases from an unidentified virus in the city of Wuhan on Dec 31, 2019. 

By Jan. 3, 2020, national authorities in China had reported at least 44 cases to the WHO, but they still hadn’t isolated what virus was causing these infections. The Jan. 5 WHO response didn’t recommend any specific measures for travelers and advised against restrictions on travel or trade, based on the information they had at the time.

Chinese officials and the WHO still didn’t know if the disease could spread person-to-person, and infections were extremely localized.

"On Jan. 8 of this year, the CDC raised alarm that the virus represented a threat to the health of American citizens."

Again, this isn’t exactly what the CDC said on this date. A CDC health advisory announced an investigation in Wuhan of a new disease that was leading to symptoms of pneumonia. The advisory stated that "no human-to-human transmission has been reported." It didn’t identify the disease as being caused by a virus, and at this point the disease hadn’t traveled outside of China, or even Wuhan.

On Jan. 10, after the disease had been identified as viral, the CDC said in a risk assessment that "based on current information, the risk from the Novel Coronavirus 2019 to the American public is deemed to be low."

"During the subsequent two months, the president of the United States did nothing."

This too is an exaggeration. President Trump did appear dismissive of COVID-19 at first, saying in a Jan. 22 CNBC interview, "We have it under control.". After eight cases had been reported in the U.S. on Feb. 2, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity, "We pretty much shut it down." At a  Feb. 26 press conference, he still referred to it as "similar to the flu."

But saying his administration "did nothing" is not accurate. The President’s Coronavirus Task Force was formed on Jan. 29 to "to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus." That task force announced on Jan. 31 that the coronavirus presented a public health emergency in the United States and instituted a travel ban against foreigners coming from China. The Coronavirus Task Force went on to brief lawmakers and governors on the danger that COVID-19 posed in early February. However, it wasn’t until Feb. 25 that the Trump administration asked Congress for $2.5 billion in funding to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

"He called it a hoax."

This quote from Trump is in dispute. President Trump is known for using the terms "hoax" and "witch hunt" regularly. Understanding how and why he used that word in connection to the coronavirus at a rally in Charleston, S.C. is a little more complicated.

After accusing Democrats of "politicizing the coronavirus," Trump blasted the 2016 Russia investigation and his impeachment in the House — both of which he has labeled a hoax — before briefly turning back to the virus. "Think of it," he said. "And this is their new hoax."

The next day, Trump said he was referring to the Democrats’ response to the coronavirus as a hoax, rather than to COVID-19 itself.

RELATED STORY: The president who cried hoax? Experts weigh in on Trump’s use of the word

"He held nine campaign rallies, went golfing on six different occasions."

This is accurate. According to the Trump campaign website, he held nine campaign rallies before halting his campaign tour on March 11. There is also documentation from the press and social media that show he went golfing six times in 2020.

RELATED FACT-CHECK: Viral post compares dates on when Trump admitted coronavirus was a problem

"The White House expects that between 100,000-200,000 Americans will die as a result of this crisis and particularly as a result of two months of critical time that were lost"

These numbers are outdated.

Yes, the original estimate was that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans would die from COVID-19. Those numbers were released at a White House press conference on March 31. 

Six days before Priorities USA released this ad, however, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced those numbers had lowered to around 60,000 deaths. This was largely attributed to successful social distancing. 

Mora also said in the ad that the projected deaths from COVID-19 are "a result of two months of critical time that were lost." But Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the leading scientists on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in an interview with CNN that the timeline can’t be connected so directly. "Obviously it would have been nice if we had a better head start," Fauci said. "I don’t think you can say that we are where we are because of one factor." 

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Our Sources

Email interview with Priorities USA, April 17, 2020

Email interview with the Trump campaign, April 17, 2020

Florida International University, Frank Mora, accessed on April 20, 2020

Priorities USA on YouTube, Frank FL, April 14, 2020

WHO, Pneumonia of unknown cause – China, Jan 5, 2020

CDC, Outbreak of Pneumonia of Unknown Etiology (PUE) in Wuhan, China, Jan 8, 2020

CDC, Novel Coronavirus 2019, Wuhan, China Situation Summary, Jan 10, 2020

CNBC, Trump on coronavirus from China: 'We have it totally under control', Jan 22, 2020

White House on Youtube, President Trump and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force Hold a News Conference, Feb 26, 2020

The White House, Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding the President's Coronavirus Task Force, Jan 29, 2020

The White House, Press Briefing by Members of the President's Coronavirus Task Force, Jan 31, 2020

The New York Times, As China Clamps Down on Negative News, Quarantines on Land and Sea, Feb 5, 2020

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Representatives of Coronavirus Task Force Brief Governors at NGA, Feb 9, 2020

Axios, Trump administration asks Congress for $2.5 billion to fight coronavirus, Feb 25, 2020

C-SPAN, President Trump Campaign Event in North Charleston, South Carolina, Feb 28, 2020

Donald Trump Campaign, Events, archived Jan 8, 2020 

Donald Trump Campaign, Events, archived Jan 29, 2020

Donald Trump Campaign, Events, archived Feb 17, 2020

Tweet, Feb 1, 2020

Tweet, Mar 7, 2020

Public Pool, Subject: Out-of-town pool report #3, Feb 15, 2020

Palm Beach Post, Photos: PHOTOS: Trump in Palm Beach on Saturday, Jan 18, 2020

Palm Beach Post, Photos: PHOTOS: Trump in Palm Beach on Sunday, Jan 20, 2020

Palm Beach Post, Photos: PHOTOS: President Trump's visit 3-8-2020, March 8, 2020

CNBC Television on Youtube, Trump's coronavirus task force holds briefing as COVID-19 cases surge – 3/31/2020, March 31, 2020

CNN, Birx says drop in US death projection is due to Americans changing their behavior through social distancing, April 8, 2020

CNN, Fauci: Earlier shutdown 'could have saved lives', April 13, 2020

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More by Emily Venezky

Ad watch: Priorities USA’s timeline on coronavirus and Trump’s inaction