Fact check: Did Trump 'inherit' a broken COVID-19 test?

President Donald Trump deflected blame for the slow start of testing for the new coronavirus in the United States. "We inherited a broken test," he said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" March 30.

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Jon Greenberg
, PolitiFact reporter
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump deflected blame for the slow start of testing for the new coronavirus in the United States.

"We inherited a broken test," he said on Fox News’ "Fox and Friends" on March 30.

Trump said much the same the day before during a Rose Garden press conference.

"We took over a dead, barren system," Trump said. "That didn’t work, because when CDC first looked at their test, the biggest problem they had is, the test didn’t work. That wasn’t from us. That’s been there a long time. Now we have the best tests in the world."

Trump’s assertion that the test "wasn’t from us," gets things backwards. There could be no test for the virus that causes COVID-19 until the virus emerged.

Trump’s claim that his administration inherited a broken test "doesn’t make sense," said infectious disease researcher Christopher Mores at George Washington University’s School of Public Health.

"The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) designed it and validated it and deployed it," Mores said. "It has since been found to have multiple problems and has been changed to address some of these."

China officially reported the new disease Dec. 31, 2019. It sent a genetic map of the viral DNA to the world community on Jan. 7.

Within 10 days, a German lab had published a recipe for a test to detect the virus. The World Health Organization adopted that test and began helping low- and middle-income countries roll it out.

The first case of COVID-19 appeared in the United States on Jan. 21, and by Feb. 5, the CDC was sending test kits to state health agencies. But there was a hitch. The tests needed clean reagents, chemicals essential to providing reliable results. Some of the reagents were tainted, and states had to send their samples to be tested back to the CDC.

All of this cost public health officials precious time learning how far the coronavirus had spread. By mid-February, the CDC and state labs had tested just under 2,200 samples. This was at a time when South Korea had performed over 7,900 tests.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, by March 29, the country had conducted more than 831,000 tests.

Trump has incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for creating a policy that hamstrung the development of a testing regime. It is true that Food and Drug Administration rules slowed the process for private labs, but that practice dated back to the days of the President George W. Bush administration. Trump also falsely said the WHO had a bad test. Three independent labs validated that test.

We asked the White House how a previous administration could be responsible for a test created three years into the Trump presidency. We did not hear back.

Pants on Fire

PolitiFact ruling

Trump said that his administration inherited a broken test. That flies in the face of logic. There could be no test until the virus emerged.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.