Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg March 31, 2020

Trump blames past administrations for a flawed COVID-19 test. The test couldn’t have existed earlier

If Your Time is short

  • China reported a totally new viral disease, now called COVID-19, on Dec. 31, 2019.

  • The U.S. government began sending test kits out on Feb. 5, 2020.

  • There was no inherited test because a test couldn’t be created until the new virus had emerged. 

President Donald Trump deflected blame for the slow start of testing for the new coronavirus in the United States.

"We inherited a broken test," he said on Fox News’ "Fox and Friends" March 30

Trump said much the same the day before during a Rose Garden press conference.

"We took over a dead, barren system," Trump said. "That didn’t work, because when CDC first looked at their test, the biggest problem they had is, the test didn’t work. That wasn’t from us. That’s been there a long time. Now we have the best tests in the world."

Trump’s assertion that the test "wasn’t from us," gets things backwards. There could be no test for the virus that causes COVID-19 until the virus emerged. 

Trump’s claim that his administration inherited a broken test "doesn’t make sense," said infectious disease researcher Christopher Mores at George Washington University’s School of Public Health.

"The (Centers for Disease Control) designed it and validated it and deployed it," Mores said. "It has since been found to have multiple problems and has been changed to address some of these."

China officially reported the new disease Dec. 31, 2019. It sent a genetic map of the viral DNA to the world community Jan. 7, 2020. 

Featured Fact-check

Within 10 days, a German lab had published a recipe for a test to detect the virus. The World Health Organization adopted that test and began helping low- and middle-income countries roll it out.

RELATED: Timeline: How Donald Trump responded to the coronavirus pandemic

The first case of COVID-19 appeared in the United States on Jan. 21, and by Feb. 5, the CDC was sending test kits to state health agencies. But there was a hitch. The tests needed clean reagents, chemicals essential to providing reliable results. Some of the reagents were tainted and states had to send their samples to be tested back to the CDC.

All of this cost public health officials precious time learning how far the coronavirus had spread. By mid February, CDC and state labs had tested just under 2,200 samples. This was at a time when South Korea had performed over 7,900 tests. 

According to the COVID Tracking Project, by March 29, the country had conducted more than 831,000 tests.

Trump has incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for creating a policy that hamstrung the development of a testing regime. It is true that Food and Drug Administration rules slowed the process for private labs, but that practice dated back to the days of the President George W. Bush administration. Trump also falsely said the WHO had a bad test. Three independent labs validated that test.

We asked the White House how a previous administration could be responsible for a test created three years into the Trump presidency. We did not hear back.

Our ruling

Trump said that his administration inherited a broken test. That flies in the face of logic. There could be no test until the virus emerged.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

 

Our Sources

Fox News, Fox and Friends, March 30, 2020

White House, Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing, March 29, 2020

MIT Technology Review, Why the CDC botched its coronavirus testing, March 5, 2020

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Testing in U.S., March 30, 2020

Korean Center for Disease Control, The updates on COVID-19 in Korea, Feb. 16, 2020

New York Times, The lost month: How a failure to test blinded the US to covid-19, March 28, 2020

Washington Post, 11 to 100,000: What went wrong with coronavirus testing in the U.S., March 30, 2020

PolitiFact, Did FDA regulations slow testing for the coronavirus?, March 23, 2020

Email exchange, Christopher Mores, professor, Department of Global Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, March 30, 2020

 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jon Greenberg

Trump blames past administrations for a flawed COVID-19 test. The test couldn’t have existed earlier

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up