Posts on social media claim that the Ebola, SARS, swine flu and Zika outbreaks happened when former President Barack Obama was in office, and that “nothing was canceled, suspended and stock market was smooth sailing.” (here) This claim is partly false.
Despite the limited scope of Ebola within the U.S., U.S. stocks dropped more than 1 percent on October 1, 2014 as the first diagnosis of Ebola in a patient in the United States spooked investors (here). On October 13, 2014, Reuters reported that “the S&P 500 dropped more than 1 percent and posted its worst three-day slide since November 2011… following worries that global economic weakness [would] dampen U.S. earnings, along with concern about the spread of Ebola.” (here)
The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which affected 26 countries and led to over 8,000 cases in 2003 (here), did not coincide with the years of Obama’s presidency (2009-2017).
It is true that the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, which occurred between 2009 and 2010, coincided with Obama’s presidency (here).
It is incorrect to say that nothing was consequently canceled, or that the stock market was “smooth sailing” while this pandemic unfolded. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “when novel influenza H1N1 emerged suddenly in 2009, it was not surprising that over 726 K-12 schools in the United States closed” (here). On May 2, 2009, President Obama in his weekly address to the nation reminded Americans of the CDC’s recommendation that “schools and childcare facilities with confirmed cases of the virus close for up to fourteen days.” (here)
For the first five months of the pandemic, which began in the U.S. in April 2009 and ended in August 2010, the U.S. was still in the midst of the Great Recession (here) though the S&P 500 did grow 65 percent between March 9 and December 30, 2009 (here).
At the beginning of the H1N1 outbreak, U.S. stock index futures traded lower as worries linked to a global swine flu outbreak added to U.S. bank stress-test jitters (here). The same day, Reuters also reported that “stocks worldwide and oil prices fell… on fears that a possible flu pandemic could further weaken a global economy thrown into recession by a financial crisis.” (here)
It is true that the 2015-2016 outbreak of Zika virus coincided with Obama’s presidency (here). In 2015, there were 62 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases reported in U.S. states and 10 reported in U.S. territories (here). In 2016, there were 5,168 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases reported in U.S. states and 36,512 reported in U.S. territories (here).
Zika is mostly spread by infected mosquitoes, but the virus can also be passed during pregnancy from a mother to her fetus, through sexual intercourse, through blood transfusion, and through certain “healthcare and laboratory setting exposure” (here). Due to more limited means of transmission, the actions the U.S. has taken in response to COVID-19 would not have been necessary or comparable to the risk posed by Zika.
As part of his response to the Zika virus, President Obama “called on Congress to provide emergency funding to combat this disease, including to: speed the development of a vaccine; allow people – especially pregnant women – to more easily get tested and get a prompt result; and ensure that states and communities – particularly those in the South that have experienced local outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya in the past – have the resources they need to fight the mosquito that carries this virus.” (here)
Effects on the U.S. stock market were more limited in the case of Zika. On February 1, 2016, the Dow Jones transportation average fell 2.9 percent, and hit a session low in late trading following news of the first U.S. transmission of the Zika virus (here). According to CNBC (here), while the global stocks dropped about 6% after the Zika outbreak “took off”, after six months it bounced back and was down only about 0.6%.
Partly false: Only swine flu (H1N1), Ebola and Zika happened during Barack Obama’s presidency, not SARS; schools did close due to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010; there was some reported impact on the stock market during these outbreaks. The differing characteristics of the named outbreaks - including the numbers affected in the U.S. and the ease of transmission - do not allow for meaningful direct comparison with COVID-19.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work here .