Utah Sen. Mitt Romney criticized the Trump administration’s early response to the coronavirus outbreak on Friday, saying they dismissed the virus as a threat from the outset and failed to take immediate action.
“Short term I think it’s fair to say we (the United States) really have not distinguished ourselves in a positive way by how we responded to the crisis when it was upon us,” Romney said during an interview with the Sutherland Institute.
Romney, a Republican who has spoken out against Trump publicly on a number of issues, said the “proof of the pudding” is evident in the number of reported Covid-19 deaths.
“We have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s deaths due to Covid-19, and there’s no way to spin that in a positive light,” he said.
The U.S. has reported at least 168,462 deaths related to the coronavirus out of the world’s 766,488 fatalities so far, marking nearly 22% of the total globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data. However, a recent Yale study suggests that the true tally of deaths from Covid-19 could be substantially higher than the number of confirmed deaths.
While Romney applauded Congress and the administration for moving quickly to provide financial relief in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, he said the administration didn’t immediately “ring all the alarm bells.” They failed to equitably distribute personal protective equipment to every state and were slow to scale manufacturing of the essential supplies, he said.
“The health impact of Covid-19 on our country and our response to it was really very, very disappointing,” Romney said.
President Donald Trump has at times dismissed the Covid-19 death toll, telling Axios’ Jonathan Swan in an interview conducted in late July that the number of fatalities “is what it is.” During the interview, Trump said his administration has done and “incredible” job responding to the pandemic.
“They are dying. That’s true, and — it is what it is,” Trump said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it,” Trump said in the interview.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in response to Romney’s comments that Trump has built “the largest public-private partnership not seen since WWII that has sourced critical supplies and PPE for our frontline heroes and developed a robust testing regime from nothing resulting in this country leading the world in testing.”
“He’s always acted on the recommendations of his top public health experts throughout this crisis as evidenced by the many bold, data-driven decisions he has made to save millions of lives,” Deere said.
While the U.S. has conducted more tests than most other countries, recent declines in testing have thrown into question the accuracy of the nation’s daily reporting. There have also been delays in people receiving their testing results, in some cases waiting weeks before they’re notified.
Many health officials say that such long delays make the testing unhelpful when it comes to tracking and preventing further spread.
Trump has also frequently clashed with advice from public health experts, including White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. The president failed to recognize the importance of wearing face coverings, though he has recently endorsed the idea, and has repeatedly said the virus “will go away” and that children are “virtually immune.”