What Donald Trump Gets Right and Wrong When Talking About the Coronavirus
Here's what's been true and false about what the president has said so far
President Donald Trump said Sunday that the White House has a “perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan” to stop the spread of novel coronavirus in the United States, where there were more than 900 confirmed cases as of Tuesday morning and 29 deaths.
But the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak has been criticized in recent weeks, especially after the president contradicted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late February when he maintained the federal government had the coronavirus totally under control as the CDC warned American to “prepare in the expectation that this could be bad.”
President Trump, 73, faced more backlash regarding his sometimes incorrect statements about the government’s efforts thus far and the risks posed by the respiratory virus.
CNN reports that Trump is averaging about 59 false claims per week, including outright lies, since last July. A number of those statements have recently been about coronavirus and his administration’s response, for which the president has continuously congratulated himself.
Here’s what’s been true and false about what Trump has said so far.
Trump’s Boasting About Shutting Down Travel from China
In late January, the government said it would place restrictions on many non-citizens entering the country from China. Trump has since made multiple exaggerated claims regarding that decision and its impact — essentially describing it as a surefire strategy to help stop the virus’ spread that he made over the advice of other officials and while being criticized by Democrats.
Here he is both right and wrong: Travel restrictions have been a common tactic of various countries seeking to combat the virus and are successful mitigators. But Trump’s boasts of executing a response over less sensible advisers is not true: It was widely recommended by officials and was not widely criticized.
On Feb. 2, Trump claimed, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” while on Feb. 26 he said “within a couple of days [the number of coronavirus cases] is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
In reality, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. has gone up — as well as the number of deaths.
More than 900 have been infected by the virus so far in the U.S., as of Tuesday afternoon, while 29 have died; 24 of those deaths were in Washington state where the outbreak in the U.S. has been one of the worst so far.
Trump’s False Claim About ‘Anyone’ Being Able to Get Tested
Trump has claimed that “anyone who wants a test can get a test” — but that’s not yet true and is a key part of the criticism of the government’s response so far.
The administration began walking back the president’s comments as the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar corrected the president, saying that people can only get approved for a coronavirus test if they’ve seen a doctor or medical professional who can approve them for one.
“You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test,” Azar said Saturday during a White House briefing, according to The New York Times. “That is our medical system in the United States, in the same way that you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn’t prescribe that.”
What’s more, so far the number of available tests has lagged demand with some doctors and some people who are possibly infected openly sharing stories of their struggles to get tests.
Last week Secretary Azar said “as many as four million tests” will be made available this week.
Trump’s Complaints About Backlash to the Administration
The president has laid blame on Democrat lawmakers for creating “hysteria” over the coronavirus in an attempt to politicize it as a “hoax” to damage him ahead of the election in November.
“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
While some Democrats have loudly and harshly criticized the president’s efforts thus far — such as when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cotez bashed his decision to name Vice President Mike Pence as the government’s lead on the coronavirus response — Republicans have also aired misgivings
When the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion from Congress to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it wasn’t just Democrats who said the number was too low.
“It could be an existential threat to a lot of people in this country, so money should not be an object,” Republican Sen. Richard Shelby told members of Trump’s coronavirus task force then, according to Politico. “We should try to contain and eradicate this as much as we can, both in the U.S. and helping our friends all over the world.”
Asked about claims that Democrats were politicizing the coronavirus discussion, Pence said last week that there was “irresponsible rhetoric on the other side.” But he pointed to an op-ed in the Times and not a politician’s statements.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy also told acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf in February that he wasn’t providing clear answers about the risks of coronavirus while updating Congress.
“You’re supposed to keep us safe, and the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus, and I’m not getting them from you,” Kennedy said then.
The White House and Congress agreed on an $8.3 billion spending bill late last week to help fund research and prevention efforts.
Trump Downplays Fatality Rates
Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he disagreed with the World Health Organization’s estimation that the coronavirus has a 3.4 percent mortality rate — based on a “hunch.”
“I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number — and this is just my hunch — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild, they’ll get better very rapidly,” Trump told Hannity. “They don’t even see a doctor. They don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”
“While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower,” the WHO said on March 6.
It’s true that the mortality rate number is expected to drop as more mild cases are identified, as testing becomes more available worldwide. But the coronavirus is expected to remain much deadlier than the flu.
The president has complained on Twitter that so far people — even, it seems, his own health officials — are acting with more alarm than he would given that the flu has killed thousands more people than the coronavirus.
But he has made a key mixup: The flu only seems deadlier because it has infected millions more people, even with a fatality rate of about 0.1 percent. Should the coronavirus spread that far and infect millions as well, its death roll would likely eclipse the flu’s. It could cause further chaos by overwhelming emergency-room and medical resources in local communities.
A Vaccine Is Coming ‘Soon’ (but Not as Fast as Trump Thinks)
The president insists that a coronavirus vaccine is probably “months” away. But that’s overly optimistic.
“I don’t know what the time will be. I’ve heard very quick numbers — that of months. And I’ve heard pretty much a year would be an outside number, so I think that’s not a bad range. But if you’re talking about three-to-four months in a couple of cases, a year in other cases,” Trump said at a coronavirus roundtable in early March, according to The Washington Post.
But medical experts say a vaccine is at least a year away, disagreeing with Trump’s timeline. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, corrected the president in real time and reminded him that it would be more than a year before vaccines are tested, made ready to be sent out and deployed to the public.
Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, tells PEOPLE that there’s currently a number of vaccines being developed, though it will be at least a year before any are approved and ready to distribute.
“In terms of a vaccine, we’re at least a year away — maybe longer,” Hotez says. “We have a vaccine that we developed that we’re trying to get into clinical testing. There are four or five other candidates, but they’re going to have to go through extensive safety testing.”
Until then, the best thing the Trump administration can do is to work to contain the virus, Hotez says: “It’s going to be all about mitigating this and making certain we can triage patients in the hospital, getting them into isolation wards.”