A doctor who was featured in a misleading video Donald Trump presented during a White House press briefing has come out to correct the record — and the president — about his comments surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at University of Southern California, suggested that his thoughts had changed about the threat the novel virus had on the US after initially stating in media interviews that health officials had contained the outbreak.
Mr Trump displayed the doctor’s comments from a CBS News interview on 8 February at the press briefing on Monday afternoon, in which Mr Agus said: “Coronavirus is not going to cause a major issue in the United States.”
Later that night, as the president’s unwieldy press conference was slammed by critics for allegedly including “propaganda” about his administration’s response to Covid-19, the doctor clarified his comments that were featured during the controversial episode.
Mr Agus wrote in a tweet: “Many (inc @POTUS) have mentioned that on Feb 8 on @CBSThisMorning I said I didn’t think #CoronaVirus would be a major issue in the US.”
He continued: “I was told we had adequate virus testing & would quarantine those infected & control the virus before it was able to terrorize the country.”
“We have the best epidemiology teams in the world after all,” the doctor wrote in a follow-up tweet. “I was wrong to accept this as fact, and have learned to question not trust.”
While health officials and the federal government were seemingly calm about the virus and its potential impact after the US confirmed its first official Covid-19 case on 20 January, the country faced significant issues distributing testing kits nationwide in order to expand rapid testing capabilities.
Experts said those initial months of the outbreak could have served as a window of time to contain the virus and prevent countless deaths, as well as “flatten the curve” by slowing the rate of transmissions and in turn keeping the nation’s hospital systems within capacity.
The president himself was attempting to instil calm throughout the first weeks of the outbreak, claiming his administration had the situation “totally under control” in late January, and predicting throughout February that it would likely “go away in April” or the summer months, alleging the virus could weaken due to the heat.
Mr Trump lambasted his critics on Monday and continued to assert his administration’s response to the pandemic was “perfect”. The president also claimed his authority was “total” at the press briefing, telling a reporter who asked about state governors potentially disagreeing with his plans to reopen the country: “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.”
The doctor wasn’t alone in correcting the record after the president’s video was aired: New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman also said she was the target of “misleading” content produced by Mr Trump on Monday.
“The president is using audio of me on The Daily to bash my reporting in the paper (though I’m so glad they listen to the Daily),” the journalist wrote in a tweet, referring to the New York Times’ podcast, The Daily. “Their use of the audio is misleading – I went on to say I said he treated that travel limitation as a Mission Accomplished moment.”
The clip Ms Haberman was referring to featured her discussing the president’s decision to shut down flights coming in from China amid the outbreak, saying he was accused of “xenophobia” and “widely criticised” by his opponents.
“And then he did basically nothing for over a month,” she added in a follow-up tweet, adding: “Which was our story yesterday.”
The president’s claims touting his response to the pandemic come as the US reports more than 21,000 deaths linked to the pandemic and nearly 550,000 cases of coronavirus, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.