Obama Says the Biggest Mistake Leaders Can Make Amid Coronavirus Pandemic is Spreading Misinformation

Former President Barack Obama has warned leaders against spreading misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obama made an appearance Thursday at a virtual event for the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative, a program from former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's philanthropic organization. Obama offered advice on responding to the pandemic to a large number of local leaders from cities around the world.

"To be able to share information and best practices makes all the difference," Obama said. "Speak the truth. Speak it clearly. Speak it with compassion. Speak it with empathy for what folks are going through. The biggest mistake any us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we're requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination."

Obama encouraged the city leaders to base their response to the pandemic on the opinions of experts, rather than solely relying on their own instincts.

"The more smart people you have around you, and the less embarrassed you are to ask questions, the better your response is going to be," said Obama.

He also asked the leaders to be mindful of vulnerable groups who may be hit especially hard, while also looking out for issues such as domestic violence, which has been reported more frequently as a large proportion of people have been ordered to stay home.

"We're seeing disparities in how people are affected in cities and towns and communities across the country. Look out for the vulnerable," Obama said. "When you start looking at issues of domestic abuse and you start looking at racial disparities that are popping up in your cities, paying attention to that is the kind of leadership I know all of you aspire to."

Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois on October 29, 2019. Scott Olson/Getty

Obama has been relatively quiet since leaving office and has rarely commented during the pandemic, although he has occasionally provided his opinions and advice on social media.

"Social distancing bends the curve and relieves some pressure on our heroic medical professionals. But in order to shift off current policies, the key will be a robust system of testing and monitoring – something we have yet to put in place nationwide," tweeted Obama on Wednesday.

Over three years after Obama left office, President Donald Trump claimed that the slow rollout of COVID-19 testing in the U.S. was the former president's fault, citing a testing "rule" imposed by Obama and telling reporters "I don't take responsibility at all" for the delays on March 13.

Experts say that the rule Trump referenced did not exist, although there was non-binding guidance concerning regulation of a type of lab test. However, the guidance was never implemented and completely withdrawn before Trump took office, according to Factcheck.org.

Newsweek reached out to Obama for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Obama Says the Biggest Mistake Leaders Can Make Amid Coronavirus Pandemic is Spreading Misinformation | News