Faced with intense criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, stubbornly high rates of new infections across much of the country and questions about whether he is pushing too soon to get the economy going again, President Trump has settled into a messaging routine: deflect, reject and minimize.
Confronted with projections showing that the number of cases and deaths will continue to rise, Mr. Trump has mischaracterized how the models work.
With states and many public health experts saying testing remains inadequate, he has countered with false and misleading comparisons to other countries.
And when asked to reconcile the gap between his earlier sunny predictions of few deaths and the current situation, he has used false assertions to blame others and continued to rewrite the history of his own response.
Here’s an assessment of some of the president’s recent claims.
What Mr. Trump Said
“We are helping other countries which are desperate for them. Likewise, after having been left little, we are now doing more testing than all other countries combined, and with superior tests.”
— on Twitter on Wednesday
False. Mr. Trump has embellished a previously misleading talking point to a wholly untrue one.
He has regularly heralded the total number of tests conducted in the United States as the highest of any single country in the world. That is technically accurate, though on a per capita basis the United States still lags others.
Combined, the 82 countries monitored by Our World in Data had conducted at least 28.1 million tests while the 183 countries measured by Worldometers performed about 33.7 million tests.
What Mr. Trump Said
“Don’t forget, the cupboard was bare. The other administration, the last administration, left us nothing. We didn’t have ventilators. We didn’t have medical equipment. We didn’t have testing. The tests were broken. You saw that. We had broken tests.”
— in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday
False. The Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government’s repository of medicines and medicinal products, contained more than $7 billion worth of supplies when Mr. Trump took office.
An archived page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website from December 2016 estimated that the stockpile was valued at more than $7 billion and included ventilators as well as antibiotics, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, vaccines, antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. After Mr. Trump took office, the estimate remained over $7 billion, according to a June 2017 government brief.
While the C.D.C. does not disclose specific details about the contents or locations of the stockpile, it has offered some glimpses into the secret warehouses where supplies are stashed. A reporter for NPR toured one location in June 2016 and described how “shelves packed with stuff stand so tall that looking up makes me dizzy” and “rows upon rows of ventilators that could keep sick or injured people breathing.”
The president’s complaint about inheriting “broken tests” is nonsensical, as the novel coronavirus was discovered in late 2019, more than two years after his predecessor left office. The Trump administration botched development of its own tests, leaving the United States initially blind to the virus’s spread and behind other nations.
It is reasonable to argue that previous administrations failed to leave Mr. Trump with a stockpile large enough to handle the scale of the current pandemic — The Times has reported, for example, on a stalled government effort to procure more ventilators under previous administrations. But the president is clearly wrong that the stockpile contained “nothing” at all.
What Mr. Trump Said
“Those models that you’re mentioning are talking about without mitigation.”
— in the ABC interview
False. Mr. Trump was referring to two projections publicized this week that predicted rising death tolls. Both factored in mitigation strategies.
One, produced by Johns Hopkins University for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and obtained by The Times, estimated about 200,000 new cases each day by June, up from 25,000 cases a day currently.
The university stressed in a statement that the analyses were “preliminary” and not finished, and included situations in which social-distancing measures are prematurely relaxed. Some assume the policies are either highly or moderately effective and become “half as effective going forward as current measures expire,” the epidemiologist who produced the estimates said in an interview with NPR.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington also updated its forecast to estimate nearly 135,000 deaths by August. This model also accounts for social-distancing policies.
“Our model now assumes that mandates that are currently still in place and have not been scheduled to be relaxed will stay in place through at least August 4,” the institute wrote. “For locations where distancing policies have been eased or clear plans have been instituted for their easement, we used those dates for the predictions.”
What Mr. Trump Said
Bret Baier, Fox News host: “You did talk a lot about hydroxychloroquine for a while.”
Mr. Trump: “I do. And I still do.”
Mr. Baier: “And there were some studies that came out that questioned the cardiac tie, but you stopped talking about it.”
Mr. Trump: “One study. One study. But there was studies that came out that say it’s very good, too.”
— in a town-hall-style event on Fox News on Sunday
This is misleading. Hundreds of studies are in the works on the efficacy of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two malaria drugs Mr. Trump has promoted for treatment of the coronavirus, but the current body of research is limited and insufficient. Many of the studies that have shown the drugs might be effective come with heavy caveats, and the Food and Drug Administration has warned that the drugs “can cause abnormal heart rhythms.”
A review published last week of seven completed clinical trials — five in China and two in France — found that five showed favorable outcomes for patients using chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, while two showed no change. But the review noted that all seven trials “carried varying degrees of bias and poor study design.” (For example, sample sizes were too small to be reliable or the randomization of subjects was inadequate.) It concluded that the data was insufficient to support using the two antivirals as treatments.
The review did not include two prominent studies, one conducted in Brazil and one performed on Veterans Affairs patients because the first was not completed and the other was not a clinical trial. The Brazilian study was halted because patients developed irregular heart rates.
What Mr. Trump Said
“I closed our country to China. Nancy Pelosi was, a month later, saying, ‘It’s going to pass.’ Everybody — even Tony Fauci was saying, ‘It’s going to pass, not going to be a big deal.’”
— in the Fox News event
False. At the end of January, Mr. Trump barred most foreign citizens from entering the United States if they had recently visited China. A month later, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was repeatedly saying that the scale of the outbreak would depend on mitigation while Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the coronavirus were largely limited to criticizing Mr. Trump’s response, rather than predictions about its spread.
“No. Right now, at this moment, there’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis. Right now the risk is still low, but this could change,” he responded. “This could be a major outbreak. I hope not. Or it could be something that’s reasonably well controlled.”
Ms. Pelosi addressed the outbreak at a news conference in late February and called the Trump administration’s response “opaque and often chaotic.” She also spoke about an earlier visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown and said, “We want to be fully prepared but not panicking or fearful of what’s happening.” She did not comment on the trajectory of the disease.
Mr. Trump may have been mixing up their comments with his own. In February, he said the virus could “disappear,” though he added that “nobody really knows,” and that cases were “going down, not up.”
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