AP FACT CHECK: Trump bends facts on virus, Biden, economy

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump clung to the false notion that the coronavirus will just “disappear,” made incorrect claims about a top government expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and again insisted that Americans are getting all the COVID-19 tests they need — all in a television interview Sunday where his answers fell short on the facts.

A look at the president’s alternate reality on the virus threat, as well as his falsehoods on Democratic rival Joe Biden, the economy and the military in a “Fox News Sunday” interview:


TRUMP: “Dr. Fauci at the beginning said, ‘This will pass. Don’t worry about it. This will pass.’ He was wrong.”


THE FACTS: Trump is overstating it. While Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, said in January and February that Americans need not panic about a virus threat at the time, he also said the situation was “evolving” and that public health officials were taking the threat seriously.

“Right now the risk is still low, but this could change, I've said that many times,” Fauci told NBC on Feb. 29. He allowed that if there are growing cases of community spread, it could become a “major outbreak.”

“When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread,” Fauci said.

He never claimed the virus would just "pass” or disappear.


TRUMP: “Dr. Fauci told me not to ban China, it would be a big mistake. I did it over and above his recommendation.”

THE FACTS: That's incorrect. While Fauci expressed some initial reservations about travel restrictions on China, he supported the decision by the time it was made.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force at the time and announced the travel restrictions, said Trump made the decision in late January after accepting the “uniform recommendation of the career public health officials here at HHS.”

While the World Health Organization did advise against the overuse of travel restrictions, Azar told reporters in February that his department’s career health officials had made a “considered recommendation, which I and the president adopted” in a bid to slow spread of the virus.


TRUMP: “I will be right eventually. You know I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again. It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right.”

TRUMP: “We’ll put out the flames. ... It’s going to be under control.”

THE FACTS: “The virus is not going to disappear,” according to Fauci. Nor can it be considered “under control” and its flame “put out” while cases have surged to new daily highs.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has risen over the past month, hitting over 70,000 this past week, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is higher even than what the country experienced from mid-April through early May, when deaths sharply rose.

Fauci has warned that the increase across the South and West “puts the entire country at risk” and that new infections could reach 100,000 a day if people don’t start listening to guidance from public health authorities to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have recently been forced to shut down bars and businesses as virus cases surge. The U.S. currently has more than 3.7 million known cases and many more undetected.

In February, Trump asserted coronavirus cases were going “very substantially down, not up,” and told Fox Business it will be fine because “in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather.”

Fauci says there “certainly” will be coronavirus infections in the fall and winter.


TRUMP: “We go out into parking lots and everything, everybody gets a test.”

THE FACTS: He’s repeating the false notion that anybody who wants a COVID-19 test can get one.

Americans are being confronted with long lines at testing sites. People often are disqualified if they are not showing symptoms and, if they are tested, they sometimes are forced to wait many days for results.

Julie Khani, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics and other labs, has made clear that “the anticipated demand for COVID-19 testing over the coming weeks will likely exceed members’ testing capacities.” This past week the group encouraged members to give priority to “those most in need, especially hospitalized and symptomatic patients.”

Many governors and local officials say they cannot meet the demand.

“Testing has been a challenge everywhere,” says Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

Around Seattle, for instance, a new wave of patients is showing up at emergency departments, said nurse Mike Hastings.

“What’s really frustrating from my side of it is when a patient comes into the emergency department, and is not really having symptoms of COVID, but they feel like they need that testing,” said Hastings, who is president of the Emergency Nurses Association. “Sometimes we’re not able to test them because we don’t have enough test supplies, so we’re only testing a certain set of patients.”


TRUMP: “Cases are up, because we have the best testing in the world and we have the most testing.”

THE FACTS: It’s not true that infections are high only because the U.S. diagnostic testing has increased. Trump's own top public health officials have shot down this line of thinking. Infections are rising because people are infecting each other more than they were when most everyone was hunkered down.

Increased testing does play a role in the higher numbers, but there’s more to it. Testing in fact has uncovered a worrisome trend: The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is on the rise across nearly the entire country.

That’s a clear demonstration that sickness is spreading and that the U.S. testing system is falling short.

“A high rate of positive tests indicates a government is only testing the sickest patients who seek out medical attention and is not casting a wide enough net,” says the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a primary source of updated information on the pandemic.


TRUMP: “No country has ever done what we’ve done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world. They call and they say the most incredible job anybody’s done is our job on testing, because we’re going to very shortly be up to 50 million tests. You look at other countries; they don’t even do tests. ... They don’t go around have massive areas of testing, and we do.”

THE FACTS: U.S. testing is not the envy of the world, nor is the U.S. the only country that does mass testing.

U.S. testing on a per capita basis lags other countries that have done a far better job of controlling their outbreaks. State, local and federal officials are warning of the consequences of testing bottlenecks, including tests rendered useless because results come too late.

China has used batch testing, mixing samples and testing them together, as part of a recent campaign to test all 11 million residents of Wuhan. It’s an approach that top U.S. health officials believe could be used to boost U.S. screening, though it’s not clear when pooled testing could become available for wide-scale screenings at U.S. schools and businesses.

“We are nowhere near being able to rein in this virus with the amount of testing we have available at the moment,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said test results in parts of the U.S. take as long as a week, which is “too long.”

“You do the testing to find out who’s carrying the virus and then quickly get them isolated so they don’t spread it around,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And it’s very hard to make that work when there’s a long delay built in.”


TRUMP: “I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.”

CHRIS WALLACE, host of “Fox News Sunday”: “That’s not true, sir.”

TRUMP: “Number one, low mortality rate.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s claim is wholly unsupported.

An accurate death rate is impossible to know. Every country tests and counts people differently, and some are unreliable in reporting cases. Without knowing the true number of people who become infected, it cannot be determined what portion of them die.

Using a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, you can compare the number of recorded deaths with the number of reported cases. That count shows the U.S. experiencing more deaths as a percentage of cases than most other countries now being hit hard with the pandemic. The statistics look better for the U.S. when the list is expanded to include European countries that were slammed early on by the virus but now appear to have it under control. Even then, the U.S. is not shown to be among the best in avoiding death.

Such calculations, though, do not provide a reliable measurement of actual death rates because of the variations in testing and reporting, and the Johns Hopkins tally is not meant to be such a measure.

The only way to tell how many cases have gone uncounted, and therefore what percentage of infected people have died from the disease, is to do another kind of test comprehensively, of people’s blood, to find how many people bear immune system antibodies to the virus. Globally, that is only being done in select places.


TRUMP: “If you remember, I was the one that did the European Union very early.”

THE FACTS: U.S. health officials actually believe Trump was late in restricting travel from parts of Europe.

While Trump imposed travel restrictions on China in late January, he didn’t follow up with many European countries until mid-March. Those delayed travel alerts as well as limited testing contributed to the jump in U.S. cases starting in late February, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We clearly didn’t recognize the full importations that were happening,” Schuchat told The Associated Press in May.


TRUMP: “Biden wants to defund the police.”

THE FACTS: To be clear, Biden has not joined the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. He’s proposed more money for police, conditioned to improvements in their practices.

“I don’t support defunding the police,“ Biden said last month in a CBS interview. But he said he would support tying federal aid to police based on whether “they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community.”

Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.

Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into existing federal community policing grant programs.

That adds up to more money for police, not defunding law enforcement.

Biden also wants the federal government to spend more on education, social services and struggling areas of cities and rural America, to address root causes of crime.


TRUMP: “I built the greatest economy ever built anywhere in the world; not only of this country, anywhere in the world, until we got hit with the China virus.”

THE FACTS: Not true. The economy was healthy back then but not the best in U.S. history, much less world history.

Economic gains largely followed along the lines of an expansion that started more than a decade ago under President Barack Obama. And while posting great job and stock market numbers, Trump never managed to achieve the rates of economic growth he promised in the 2016 campaign. The U.S. economy was not the world’s best in history when this started.


TRUMP: “I got soldiers the biggest pay raises in the history of our military.”

THE FACTS: Trump often boasts about the size of the military pay raises under his administration, but there’s nothing extraordinary about them.

Several raises in the past decade have been larger than service members are getting under Trump — 3.1% this year, 2.6% last year, 2.4% in 2018 and 2.1% in 2017.

Raises in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4% or more.

Pay increases shrank after that because of congressionally mandated budget caps. Trump and Congress did break a trend that began in 2011 of pay raises that hovered between 1% and 2%.

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