Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Face the Nation that health officials failed White House leadership concerning the outbreak of COVID-19.
Margaret Brennan asked Gottlieb if “the failing here was one of public messaging or was it operational” when it came to messaging on the outbreak since February.
Gottlieb said (emphasis mine):
Well, look, the public messaging wasn’t clear and consistent in the outset and could have been better at all levels of government. I think if you look back in February, and I think when history looks back, the biggest failing over that month was that we were- we were situationally blind. We had no idea where this virus was and wasn’t spreading. And so when it came time to have to shut down cities, rather than focus on the cities that were truly epidemic, like New York City, we went for a simultaneous shutdown order across the whole country when that was unnecessary now, in retrospect, because there were a lot of cities where the virus wasn’t spreading at that time and we could have focused on mitigation. But we had no diagnostic test in the field to screen people. And what CDC officials were relying on and telling the coronavirus task force was that there was no spread of coronavirus in the United States in February, they were telling them that because they were looking at what we call the influenza-like illness surveillance network, basically a surveillance network of who’s presenting to hospitals with flu-like symptoms. And they said that they’re seeing no spike in people presenting with respiratory symptoms, therefore, coronavirus must not be spreading. And they were adamant about that. I was talking to White House officials over this time period. They were adamant about that. And I suspect the president was being told as well that this virus wasn’t spreading in the United States. And that may have impacted what he did and didn’t say and his willingness to, you know, as he said, talk it down a little bit because he was of the perception that this was not spreading here in the United States. That really was the tragic mistake, not just that we didn’t have the information, but we were so confident in drawing conclusions off of what proved to be faulty information and incomplete information.
Brennan seemed shocked that Gottlieb looked elsewhere for blame.
Gottlieb responded (emphasis mine):
Look, I think in this respect, the White House leadership was failed by health officials. We did not have a diagnostic in the field, so we couldn’t screen for it. We should have. We should have started working on that in January. And we over-relied on a surveillance system that was built for flu and not for coronavirus without recognizing that it wasn’t going to be as sensitive at detecting coronavirus spread as it was for flu because the two viruses spread very differently. Those were two critical failings. Now, you could say, well, the president put those people in place, he’s responsible. You know, you can make second-order arguments around that.