The White House abruptly cut off funding to a longstanding program at the National Institutes of Health on bat coronaviruses, Anthony Fauci testified to Congress this week.
Speaking at a congressional hearing on the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis, the director of the NIH’s National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that the White House specifically told the NIH to cut funding to what was considered a well-regarded research project. As Ars Technica reported, the cut in funding — as well as the disbandment of a pandemic response team — has brought criticism for the Trump administration.
The report noted that the grant for the work had been originally funded by the NIH in 2014 and was renewed for another five years in 2019. The research is run by a New York-based non-profit organization but collaborates with a virologist at a lab in Wuhan, China, which was the subject of far-right conspiracy theories claiming that the novel coronavirus was released from the lab.
After a reporter asked Donald Trump why the United States would fund a grant to China, incorrectly stating that the money was given to China, Trump said he would “end that grant very quickly.”
“The involvement of the White House is a new wrinkle in a story that has appalled and angered scientists,” the report noted. “Since the grant was nixed in late April, scientists had speculated that politics and a conspiracy theory played a role in canceling funding for the research, which was in good scientific standing and seen as critical work.”
The revelation from Fauci came at the same time as reports that Trump was pulling funding support for COVID-19 testing sites. As The Hill reported, that report garnered pushback from Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, who said that the amount of testing would not decrease and that testing sites would not see a reduction in resources.
“We are not withdrawing support,” Giroir said. “We are providing federal support in a different way.”
Trump has faced larger criticism for his response to the coronavirus, including the several weeks he spent downplaying the outbreak in the early phases, predicting that it would soon go away in the United States. Trump also pushed for states to reopen at a time when many public health experts warned it would not be safe to do so, and a number of states — many with Republican governors — did follow through in reopening economies. Some of those same states, including Florida and Texas, are now seeing a surge in cases.