Barack Obama Says Leaders Must 'Step Up' to Support People Affected by Coronavirus

Former President Barack Obama has expressed his gratitude to workers on the front line of America's coronavirus outbreak, adding that leaders must step up to guide the response and ensure support for those who will struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Obama has been sharing advice on how to respond to the virus, which has now spread all over the country and infected at least 3,774 people in the U.S. On Sunday, the former president wrote on Twitter: "Leaders have to step up to support people whose lives and livelihoods take a hit in the weeks ahead."

Public events are now being canceled, schools closed and workers told to work from home across the U.S. President Donald Trump's administration was initially dismissive of the virus, but the president has now declared a national emergency and introduced international travel restrictions.

Obama noted, "Not everybody can stay home, and we owe a big debt of gratitude to health professionals, transit and airport workers, first responders, and everyone keeping our communities going."

The virus—which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan—is most dangerous for older people and those with underlying health conditions. Nonetheless, officials have urged young people to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the disease if they show symptoms.

It is hoped that "flattening the curve"—i.e. slowing the rate of infections—will stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and unable to treat those who need it. Obama shared graphs showing how social distancing can help achieve this, warning the projections show "why we should all do the right thing and stay home to the fullest extent possible."

He added, "All of us can help slow the spread of the virus, protecting the elderly, the vulnerable, and each other."

Last week, Obama urged Americans to take "common sense precautions" like washing hands, staying home if sick and listening to the advice of local health authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Let's stay calm, listen to the experts, and follow the science," he wrote.

Trump has been criticized for his administration's slow response to the pandemic. The president has downplayed the severity of the illness and tried to dodge responsibility for its spread, even trying to shift blame to the Obama administration for unspecified changes that "complicated" the ability of officials to roll out testing during epidemics.

The president claimed that the Obama administration's response to the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak "was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now." He added, "The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!"

FactCheck.org noted that Obama oversaw no changes to CDC operations that "complicated" the response to H1N1.

The COVID-19 coronavirus strain has infected almost 170,000 people worldwide. More than 6,500 people have died while more than 77,000 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
Barack Obama, Donald Trump, coronavirus, leaders, pandemic
Former President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation Summit on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology on October 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty
Barack Obama Says Leaders Must 'Step Up' to Support People Affected by Coronavirus | Politics