Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appeared to walk back the president’s claim that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” saying on “Fox News Sunday” that it would actually be up to a doctor.
Mr. Trump has become such a polarizing figure that even when he is not necessarily wrong, many do not trust him. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last week, he called the World Health Organization’s estimated fatality rate of 3.4 percent “a false number,” saying “my hunch” was that it would be under 1 percent. It sounded as if he were substituting his uneducated “hunch” for the judgment of professionals.
But in fact, he was reflecting what he had been told by health experts, including Dr. Fauci and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, who have concluded that once the full scope of unreported infections is known, the number of deaths will most likely represent a smaller share, possibly “considerably less than” 1 percent. The W.H.O. has also said the rate may fall.
Still, at his appearance at the C.D.C., Mr. Trump had no explanation for why his White House shut down the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense established at the National Security Council in 2016 by President Barack Obama after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, stammering to suggest the coronavirus had been a surprise.
“Well, I just don’t think — I just don’t think that somebody is going to — without seeing something, like we saw something happening in China,” Mr. Trump said. “As soon as they saw that happening, they essentially — not from the White House. I mean, you know, we don’t need a lab in the White House. But they saw something happening.”
Elizabeth Cameron set up the global health security directorate at the White House for Mr. Obama before turning it over to Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, who ran it for Mr. Trump until May 2018, when he was pushed out and the directorate folded into other parts of the National Security Council. Had it still been around, it would have been charged with preparing for exactly the situation now facing the country.
“I think it would have made a difference,” Ms. Cameron said on Sunday. “Monitoring and preparing for every eventuality and having a person and a directorate accountable for that is really important and could have been important in this case.”
Chris Cameron contributed reporting from Washington.