CDC 'really let the country down' on COVID-19 testing, says White House adviser Peter Navarro

  • In Business
  • 2020-05-17 17:45:25Z

A top trade adviser to President Donald Trump leveled scathing criticisms at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, China and the Obama administration while defending the White House response to the coronavirus outbreak in interviews on Sunday.

When asked if Trump still had confidence in the CDC after the administration released a heavily scaled-down version of its guidelines on reopening, Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and Trump's coordinator on the use of the National Defense Production Act, pointed to the CDC's early challenges developing an accurate test for the virus.

"Early on in this crisis, the CDC which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back," Navarro said on NBC News' "Meet the Press."

Navarro said that when it came to establishing guidelines on lifting lockdown measures meant to stop the spread of the disease, "the important thing to understand here for the American people is this, opening up this economy is not a question of lives versus jobs."

The economic hardships imposed by the lockdowns threatened to take more lives than the coronavirus due to increased depression, suicide and drug use, Navarro said, adding that lives would also be lost by people not going to health care providers for needed treatments or checkups.

"So, if you contrast like this complete lockdown, where some of the people in the medical community want to just run and hide until the virus is extinguished, that's going to not only take a huge toll on the American economy. It's going to kill many more people than the China virus ever would," he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar agreed it was not a question of "health versus economy," but "actually health versus health."

"We see suicidality. We see reduction in cardiac procedures, cancer screenings, pediatric vaccinations. There is a very real health consequence to these shutdowns that must be balanced against as we try to reopen this economy and move forward," Azar said on CBS News "Face the Nation."

But Azar disputed Navarro's criticism of the CDC.

"I don't believe the CDC let this country down," he said.

When asked if he took responsibility for the early failure to develop a test for the virus, Azar said, "We were confronting a situation here that's completely novel."

"There has never been a national, immediate testing regime across public and private sectors. We have had to literally build this from the ground up," Azar said. He argued that the CDC's job was to develop a test for the "initial diagnosis" and that is was the role of private companies to produce them on a large scale.

The coronavirus test that wasn't: How federal health officials misled state scientists, derailed best chance at containment

"What problem did the CDC have?" Azar asked, downplaying the early testing issues. He said a contamination problem with a reagent at the end stage of the test development, "which never led to false negatives or false positives," slowed down the ability to ramp up distribution of the tests for a "couple of weeks."

"But that was never going to be the backbone of testing, of broad mass testing in the United States," Azar said.

Former CDC Director Tom Frieden has faulted the CDC, writing in an op-ed for USA TODAY that the test kits were flawed and that the "response to that error was slow."

But on "Fox News Sunday," he said sidelining the CDC was a mistake.

"I think fighting this pandemic without the CDC is like fighting with one arm tied behind your back," Frieden said.

Navarro also placed blame for the extent of the outbreak on China, implying that country's government consciously allowed the virus to spread.

He told ABC News "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos that over the previous three years, Trump had "built the most beautiful economy in modern history. And the Chinese did take that down in about 30 days, but we are in the process right now of rebuilding that."

Stephanopoulos asked Navarro if he was "saying they deliberately unleashed the COVID virus on the United States" and if he had any evidence of that.

"I did not say they deliberately did it," Navarro replied. But he went on to imply they intentionally allowed infected people to travel in order to plant the virus everywhere.

"The Chinese, behind the shield of the World Health Organization, for two months hid the virus from the world, and then sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York, and around the world to seed that," he said. "They could have kept it in Wuhan. Instead, it became a pandemic. So, that's why I say the Chinese did that to Americans and they are responsible."

Navarro cited a Pew Research poll that found 66% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of China. He said that could reach 100% due to "the behavior of China's Communist Party over the last three months, particularly in terms of unleashing this pandemic."

On Jan. 24, Trump tweeted, "China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency."

And on Feb. 7, Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping "is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus."

Stephanopoulos asked Navarro about the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's criticism that Trump was "trying to play this China card," and blame that country for the pandemic, after initially "praising the Chinese government."

"Yeah, well Joe Biden's has got 40 years of sucking up to the Chinese, including the eight years as vice president," he said. Navarro then repeated an unsubstantiated charge that has been made by the president, which alleges, without evidence, that Biden's son, Hunter Biden, received "billions of dollars" from Chinese investors.

Stephanopoulos pushed back and said Navarro's allegation about Hunter Biden was "just not factual."

"Be that as it may, I do think this election is going to be a referendum in many ways on China," Navarro said. He said the election will "have Joe Biden, long friend of China" against Trump, "the only president in modern history to stand up to China."

Navarro defended Trump's early praise of Xi - which the president has said he made because the two countries were in the middle of trade negotiations - arguing "it's great that we have a president that can get along with all world leaders." And he pushed back at the assertion that the White House had squandered the month of February by downplaying the threat posed by the coronavirus, saying Trump's response started on Jan. 30.

"So don't tell me we lost February, because I was there. I'm right here. And this president was directing us to move as quickly as possible," he said.

When asked about former President Barack Obama's criticisms of the Trump administration, Navarro said he was "glad Mr. Obama has a new job as Biden's press secretary."

He said the Obama administration had been too conciliatory toward China and displayed a "kumbaya incompetence, in which we saw millions of manufacturing jobs go off to China."

And Navarro predicted that "going into November" the election "is not going to be about the pandemic. It's going to be about jobs."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Peter Navarro: CDC 'let the country down' on coronavirus testing


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