Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Trump’s 2014 jabs at Obama over Ebola don’t play so well during the Coronavirus era

Attorney Scott Pilutik wrestles with the news of the day, from a lawyerly perspective…

I’ve avoided writing about the coronavirus epidemic because I don’t feel particularly qualified to say smart things about it, but given that ignorance didn’t stop Donald Trump from tweeting about the Ebola virus 49 times in Oct-Nov 2014, mostly about how Obama was dangerously mishandling it, I’m confident, given that low bar, I can at least say something smarter than anything Trump conveyed over that time.

Comparing the Ebola (aka EVD) response (both worldwide and in the US) to this response is helpful since it was only 5 plus years ago, and Ebola was responsible for 11,000 deaths, the vast majority in the Guinea-Liberia region of Africa. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is thus far responsible for approx 2,600 deaths, the vast majority in China’s Wuhan province.

There are key differences. Ebola was transmittable by blood and highly lethal — estimated at 90 percent. It appears that Coronavirus has a somewhat lower lethality rate (though this should be caveated, given how much remains unknown to health officials), but an astronomically higher transmittability rate, given that it can be transmitted by sneezing and surface contact, possibly by people who haven’t yet shown symptoms.


Ebola was ultimately contained, in large part by development and administration of a vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, which administration had to fight through widespread vaccine misinformation campaigns. It also took awhile — months — before the spread became epidemic.


Immediately upon ascending to office the Trump administration slashed the Centers for Disease Control budget by 20 percent. By that December the White House had issued a guideline to the CDC prohibiting it from using certain terms, including “evidence-based” and “science-based,” which is like telling NASCAR officials they can no longer use the word “engine” or “Earnhardt.”

Given this administration’s attitude toward science and given how quickly mis- and disinformation speeds through social media, I’m not at all confident that the CDC can, without crippling political interference, address the issue in terms of conveying reliable information and responding to both here and for the world’s sake.

Wilbur Ross, the ghoul overseeing the Commerce Department, recently voiced optimism that the coronavirus would be good for US manufacturing.

Trump has thus lodged far fewer tweets about coronavirus than he did Ebola, here mostly thanking China’s President Xi for China’s response, about which the jury is still very out, given there are reasons to believe China hasn’t provided a fully accurate picture.

Given Trump’s prescriptive advice for handing Ebola in 2014 (e.g., halting all flights to and from the affected area — “airport testing is a joke!”) he’s already failed to live up to his own standards. So maybe he was being disingenuous back in 2014. Maybe for Trump Ebola was a black disease compounded by Obama presidenting while black. Coronavirus, on the other hand, is a Chinese disease, which China’s autocratic leader will surely stamp out, even as it’s already spread to other countries at alarming numbers.

Or maybe Trump is genuinely nervous and putting on a brave face for politics’ sake, pretending everything is fine while our public health officials do whatever is necessary to help solve the problem, even if it means compromising Trump’s re-election chances. Sure!

Further to my point about this administration being spectacularly unprepared deal with a true emergency like a pandemic, here’s the Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security openly wondering on Twitter where he can get reliable third-party information about this damned coronavirus thingy, evidently oblivious to the existence of a gov’t agency — one that shares overlap and concerns with the DHS, i.e., national security — that can answer his questions.


During the Ebola scare Obama had appointed an “Ebola response coordinator” (Ron Klain) whose job it was to coordinate all policy relating to Ebola. After the Ebola scare waned, Klain recommended that Obama appoint someone to create and lead a pandemic preparedness unit inside the National Security Council, which Obama did. The mission of that unit was to only track potential epidemics and pandemics and prepare and game out our response to them

I probably don’t need to tell you what happened to that unit under this administration.

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email