'Close our eyes and pray isn't a strategy': Harvard physician blames Trump for sports and school cancellations
President Donald Trump hugged the US flag as he arrived to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM)

A public health expert laid blame for the cancelations of schools, sports and other public events squarely at the feet of President Donald Trump.


Dr. Ashish Jha, a physician and professor of international health at Harvard Medical School, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that these "extraordinary" measures were necessary now because the Trump administration had failed to respond adequately at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

"Things really are a mess, and the problem is, we have 1,500 cases, 1,600 cases -- that's who we have identified," Jha said. "My best guess -- and this is a guess because I don't know, we're not doing testing -- but my best guess is maybe 10,000 or more Americans are infected. We can't identify who they are, we can't take care of them and we can't, you know, use a testing-based strategy to get ahead of this virus."

"If Americans, if your viewers are wondering why are schools shutting down, why are sport events canceled, it is basically because the federal response has been so poor that we're now stuck with these very extraordinary measures, which we hope will help," Jha added. "I think they will help. Boy, are we behind the eight ball on this, and I can't believe we're here."

Trump blamed the testing failures on the Centers for Disease Control in a pair of Friday morning tweets, but Jha dismissed that claim as nonsense.

"The CDC is the best public health agency in the world, period," Jha said. "We all, around the world, we look to the CDC. This is not the CDC's fault. The problem here is that the administration has been trying to downplay it, has not taken this disease seriously. A week ago, the president was saying this is nothing, not much worse than the flu. The rest of us were screaming that we are headed for a world of hurt. The public health people have been ignored. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci has been ignored until recently. We've got a real problem ahead of us."

Jha said the administration had actually made the response worse than it should have been.

"We have the most innovative, most dynamic scientific community in the world," he said. "We have a phenomenal health system, but our government has been an impedance to that, not been helpful. The FDA has been stopping labs from producing the tests until very, very recently."

Trump reportedly blocked aggressive testing for the virus because he felt that artificially lower totals would be more helpful to him politically, and Jha said medical professionals don't understand the administration's response.

"I am baffled by this," he said. "I've been talking to my friends at the CDC, at the FDA. They don't understand the decision-making that's happening at the senior-most levels. It is really baffling why it is that the administration -- you know, there are, of course, theories like, well, the president doesn't want to know how many cases there are. Well, you don't want to know doesn't stop the virus from spreading. The virus has continued to spread across communities in America. Deciding we want to close our eyes and pray that, like, this will go away isn't a strategy. It's not going to work."