President Donald Trump blamed the Obama administration for problems with the federal response to the spread of the coronavirus before dismissing the official death rate as a "false number."
Trump tried to shift criticism over delays in testing for the coronavirus on decisions made under the administration of his predecessor.
"The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we're doing," Trump falsely claimed during a Wednesday briefing with Vice President Mike Pence. "And we undid that decision a few days ago so that the testing can take place in a much more rapid and accurate fashion."
Pence attempted to clarify Trump's comment by falsely claiming that the Obama administration gave the Food and Drug Administration jurisdiction to develop diagnostic tests but Trump is now allowing states to conduct their own tests.
An aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate committee that oversees health issues, told CNN that was untrue. Though the Obama administration proposed giving the FDA more oversight to approve diagnostic tests, Congress never approved it.
Trump, on the other hand, disbanded the team responsible for responding to global health emergencies in 2018.
The federal response to the coronavirus came under scrutiny after doctors were unable to perform tests on patients who displayed symptoms because they did not meet the criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC, which also caused delays by sending out faulty testing equipment, announced Wednesday that it will now allow anyone to get a coronavirus test with doctor approval. But state laboratory officials told The New York Times that it would be weeks before millions of Americans can be tested.
The death toll in the U.S. rose to 11 on Wednesday, with the total number of confirmed cases rising to more than 150. Experts estimate there are likely hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the U.S. after the virus reportedly spread undetected for weeks in Washington state. King County, where many of the state's cases have been reported, urged employees to work for home as dozens of schools were shuttered around the state.
The World Health Organization announced Tuesday that the death rate for the coronavirus has risen to 3.4%, up from the initial 2.3% estimate.
"Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died; by comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity; that means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease."
Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday that he had a "hunch" that number was wrong.
"Well, I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number," he said. "Now, this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this and it's very mild. They'll get better very rapidly. They don't even see a doctor. They don't even call a doctor. You never hear about those people."
"So you can't put them down in the category of the overall population in terms of this corona flu and — or virus. So you just can't do that," he continued. "So if, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better."
Trump said that because 11 people have died in the U.S. "all of a sudden it seems like 3 or 4 percent, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1 percent."
"Personally, I would say the number is way under 1 percent," he added.
But the WHO referred to the global death rate, which has continued to increase despite early predictions that it would fall once more undiagnosed cases were identified. With 11 deaths out of more than 150 cases, the U.S. death rate is actually closer to 7%, though that is expected to decrease once more people can be tested.
Trump, who also claimed without evidence that the virus would go away on its own once the weather warmed and insisted that the number of cases in the U.S. was falling as it was rising, quickly came under heavy criticism for trying to dispute the WHO's official figures with his "hunch."
"It didn't take long but we're at the point where Trump is proclaiming he knows more than the doctors and scientists on virology and he doesn't give a damn how many lives he endangers," Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., added that Fox News was free to "invite misinformed people" to "spew false information" but implored the network to "understand that this may endanger people's lives, including those of your viewers."