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Few sickened when Obama declared 2009 flu a health emergency

March 6, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: President Barack Obama waited until October 2009 to declare a national health emergency amid the H1N1 pandemic after 20,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized and more than 1,000 had died. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Obama declared a public health emergency in April 2009, after roughly 20 cases of the flu strain, more commonly known as swine flu, emerged. He declared a national emergency in October 2009. 

THE FACTS: Social media posts are falsely claiming that the former president waited months to respond with a public health emergency declaration to the flu strain known as H1N1. The posts are conflating two types of emergency declarations a president can make. 

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Obama declared a public health emergency on April 26, 2009 _ before a single swine flu death in the U.S. was reported. Such a declaration allows the government to unlock money for antiviral drugs and other medical preparedness measures. By April 29, Obama had requested Congress approve a $1.5 billion emergency funding package to combat the pandemic, The Associated Press reported at the time. 

It was in October, after 1,000 U.S. deaths, that Obama made another declaration related to the flu strain; this time a national emergency. 

That national emergency allowed the U.S. to activate  operational plans, such as moving emergency rooms offsite to keep those infected with the virus away from other emergency room patients.

Obama’s critics have mixed up claims about his response to the swine flu before. 

Last year, after Trump was criticized for declaring a national emergency at the border, Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, wrongly claimed that Obama overreached with such declarations during his time in office because he announced a national emergency in 2009 before a “single case” had been reported in the U.S. In fact, swine flu cases were active in 46 states when Obama made the declaration.  

Trump’s administration declared a public health emergency related to the coronavirus on Jan. 31.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536