Bill Gates called out the federal government on Tuesday for inadequacies in coronavirus testing and sending out what he called “bad messages” on best practices, such as wearing masks.
The billionaire philanthropist, whose foundation is the largest private underwriter of public health initiatives, said the U.S. still has time to do “far, far better” in its Covid-19 testing implementation, criticizing the government — without calling out the Trump administration explicitly — for long test-result wait times and poor contact tracing efforts.
“If you’re willing to admit that you’re not doing a perfect job, you could improve this thing very, very quickly,” Gates said in a POLITICO Playbook interview. “Right now, testing, contact tracing, we’re doing among the worst of any country.”
Gates went on to say that “now we’re engaged in something where we’re attacking the government’s top scientists” and “undermining the credibility of the person who’s the most knowledgeable,” referring to Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
President Donald Trump has undermined coronavirus warnings from health experts and his own administration since the early days of the pandemic. Trump has also repeatedly cast doubt on Fauci’s credibility in offering advice on the pandemic.
“Fortunately, Dr. Fauci has risen above the noise level, in talking about masks and best practices, and so the fact that they’re trying to undermine him for some reason, that just blows the mind,” Gates said on Tuesday.
Gates said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had also been targeted by the federal government and “not been allowed to speak out” since the start of the pandemic.
In early September, a Trump administration official pressured the CDC to alter a scientific report on the coronavirus. The president has also contradicted the CDC director on when a vaccine might become available.
“You couldn’t make a movie where the CDC was so undermined, that whether that director should stay in that job or not or just resign over it is a serious discussion,” Gates said.
When directly asked to grade Trump’s response to the pandemic, Gates criticized the administration for a lack of willingness to admit wrongdoing.
“Pretending that it’s just total lockdown versus total openness, that does no one any favors,” he said. “There are activities that should continue depending on your intensity. And let the experts articulate what’s going on here.”
But Gates also applauded the federal government for its $2 trillion economic stimulus package in March and the funding of research and trials for Covid-19 vaccines. He said the U.S. is “the exemplar” in this area, noting the nearly $10 billion that the White House’s Operation Warp Speed has thrown behind finding a vaccine and developing monoclonal antibody treatments.
Gates’ foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a major funder of the World Health Organization and has given more than $350 million to support the global response to Covid-19.
Gates said the foundation is currently working on funding a second-generation set of vaccines and making deals with high-volume manufacturers that could lead to greater vaccine distribution globally.