FactCheck

Trump, Pence and Reassessing Coronavirus

In a little more than a month, President Donald Trump’s language about the coronavirus has shifted, from talk of 15 cases that “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero” to warning of as many as 2.2 million deaths in the country if no social distancing efforts were undertaken. 

At times, the president has acknowledged he changed his assessment of the pandemic, but in other cases, he and Vice President Mike Pence have tried to revise history, ignoring or recasting his previous statements.

Here, we outline Trump’s evolving language on the deadliness of the virus, its spread in the U.S. and how it compares with the seasonal flu. We also provide a timeline of the president’s comments below.

The Threat of the Coronavirus

In an interview on CNN on April 1, Pence said, “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus.”

That may be what the vice president believes. But he is wrong. The truth is that Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus.

From Jan. 24 to March 10, as we reported before, Trump made a series of statements minimizing the danger posed to the United States. (See our timeline below.)

On March 16, Trump reversed course, imposing social distancing guidelines for 15 days. The following day, he said at a press conference: “This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” 

But he soon sounded a different tone again.

As recently as March 24 at a Fox News virtual town hall, Trump likened the disease’s impact to that of the flu or automobile accidents. At the time the president was considering, for economic reasons, whether to relax the social distancing guidelines he had imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Trump, March 24: I brought some numbers here, we lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off, I mean every year. Now when I heard the number, we average 37,000 people a year. Can you believe that? And actually this year we’re having a bad flu season, but we lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies, say, “Stop making cars. We don’t want any cars anymore.” We have to get back to work.

He suggested he might ease the social distancing guidelines. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.

On March 29, the president abandoned that aspiration and announced the guidelines would remain in place until April 30.

In the CNN interview, Pence maintained that the president had been aware throughout of the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. Confronted by anchor Wolf Blitzer with statements by Trump minimizing the danger, Pence replied, “The president is an optimistic person. We’ve been from the very beginning, when the president suspended all travel from China and stood up the White House coronavirus task force in January, we have been hoping for the best but planning for the worst, and that’s been being worked out every single day.”

(The vice president is wrong to claim that “the president suspended all travel from China” from “the very beginning.” As we have written, the administration did not suspend “all travel.” There were exceptions, including for Americans and their family members, to the travel policy announced on Jan. 31.)

‘Under Control’

In a coronavirus task force press briefing on March 15, Trump praised the task force members standing behind him, saying they have been “working around the clock” and were “doing an incredible job.” Then, he added, “This is a very contagious — this is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something that we have tremendous control over.”

The next day, when asked about that statement, Trump attempted to reframe his past comments about the U.S. having the coronavirus “under control.”

“Well, when I’m talking about control, I’m saying we are doing a very good job within the confines of what we’re dealing with,” Trump said. “If you’re talking about the virus, no, that’s not under control for any place in the world.”

At times, Trump has been clear that he meant the federal government’s response to the pandemic is “under control,” such as on Feb. 29 when talking about a “natural reflex” among Democrats to criticize his actions.

“And we’ve done a great job,” Trump said at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. “And I’ve gotten to know these professionals. They’re incredible. And everything is under control. I mean, they’re very, very cool. They’ve done it, and they’ve done it well. Everything is really under control. But when they put a mic in front of a Democrat, and the Democrat said — doesn’t even know what’s going on. ‘How is Trump doing?’ ‘He’s doing a terrible job.’ Well, sadly, I’d probably say the same about them.”

At other times, however, Trump’s “under control” comments appear to be about the coronavirus itself. For example, on Feb. 24, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

Or on Feb. 26, when Trump said, “It’s going to be very well under control. Now, it may get bigger, it may get a little bigger. It may not get bigger at all. We’ll see what happens. But regardless of what happens, we are totally prepared.”

Or on Feb. 25 when he said at a business roundtable in India, “If you go back six months or three months ago, nobody would have ever predicted. But let’s see, I think it’s going to be under control. And I think I can speak for our country, for — our country is under control.”

That same day during a press conference in India, Trump said: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it.”

Moving the Goal Posts on the Outbreak

The Trump administration has moved the goal posts dramatically when it comes to estimates of how many Americans will contract COVID-19.

For weeks, as he downplayed the disease’s danger, Trump said there were just a small number of cases in the U.S. and that the disease would vanish. By the end of March, he was saying that without dramatic action like social distancing, as many as 2.2 million Americans could die.

On Feb. 10, when he suggested the disease would go away “in April with the heat — as the heat comes in,” Trump said, “We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” (See our item “Will the New Coronavirus ‘Go Away’ in April?“)

On Feb. 26, the president said, “As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time.”  That same day, he also said, “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

Trump was still downplaying the scope of the problem on March 4, when he said, “[W]e have a very small number of people in this country [infected]. We have a big country.”

But by the end of the month, Trump was painting a stark picture of the disease’s potential toll. On March 29, when he announced he was extending social distancing guidelines until the end of April, he said as many as 2.2 million Americans could die of COVID-19 if the country failed to take decisive action.

He said, “So you’re talking about 2.2. million deaths — 2.2 million people from this. And so, if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — that’s a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000; so we have between 100- and 200,000 — we all, together, have done a very good job. But 2.2, up to 2.2 million deaths and maybe even beyond that.”

At a White House briefing on March 31, federal health officials raised the upper limit of those who might die from the disease even with mitigation efforts to 240,000.

Trump’s Flu Comparisons

Several times, Trump had compared the coronavirus outbreak to the seasonal flu, but in the March 29 task force briefing, Trump acknowledged that he had changed his mind about this.

“But there were a lot of people that said — I thought about it. I said, ‘Maybe we should ride it through.’ You know, you always hear about the flu. I talk about it all the time. We had a bad flu season. We’re in the midst of a bad flu season, Trump said. “But this is different. And part of this is the unknown, and part of it also is the viciousness of it.”

Two days later, he repeated those remarks, but said the flu comparison came from “many friends” and “a lot of people.”

“I mean, I’ve had many friends, business people, people with great, actually, common sense, they said, ‘Why don’t we ride it out?’ A lot of people have said, a lot of people have thought about it, ‘Ride it out, don’t do anything, just ride it out, and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu,” Trump said.

That’s a marked difference from his earlier comments comparing COVID-19 to the flu. For example, in the March 24 virtual town hall, Trump said, “And actually this year we’re having a bad flu season, but we lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off.”

And in a March 9 tweet, he said deaths from the flu average “between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

In a Feb. 26 press conference, Trump made some confusing remarks that wrongly suggested the fatality rate for the flu is “much higher” than the rate for COVID-19, as we wrote. So far, the worldwide fatality rate for COVID-19 has been higher, but, as we have explained, the rate may end up falling as more is known about the actual number of cases. 

As for the seasonal flu, or influenza, it does kill thousands of Americans each year, and infects millions. For the 2019-2020 flu season, 39 million to 55 million people had flu illnesses in the U.S., according to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates this season’s flu had caused between 24,000 and 63,000 deaths. Since 2010, influenza in the U.S. has caused between 9 million and 45 million illnesses annually, the CDC says, with 12,000 to 61,000 of those resulting in death.

Trump also has made comparisons between the coronavirus pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, but as we’ve written, the two viruses are very different. Peter Jay Hotez, a professor and dean of the tropical medicine school at Baylor College of Medicine, told us that the novel coronavirus, which is known as SARS-CoV-2, is considerably more transmissible and more lethal than the H1N1 influenza virus. “The urgency to contain this coronavirus is so much greater than the H1N1 2009 one was,” he said.

Timeline of Trump’s Comments

Here is a timeline of statements the president has made about the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, beginning two days after the first case in the country was confirmed:

Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. And we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” — CNBC interview

Jan. 30: “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five — and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us … that I can assure you.” — a speech in Michigan

Feb. 10: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” — remarks to governors 

Feb. 14: “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus. So we don’t know yet; we’re not sure yet. But that’s around the corner.” — speaking to National Border Patrol Council members

Feb. 23: “We have it very much under control in this country.” — speaking to reporters

Feb. 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” — on Twitter

Feb. 25: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are — in all cases, I have not heard anything other.” — press conference in New Delhi, India

Feb. 25: “If you go back six months or three months ago, nobody would have ever predicted. But let’s see, I think it’s going to be under control. And I think I can speak for our country, for — our country is under control.” — a business roundtable in New Delhi, India

Feb. 26: “So we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” — White House task force briefing

Feb. 26: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” — press conference

Feb. 26: “I think every aspect of our society should be prepared. I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” — press conference, when asked if “U.S. schools should be preparing for a coronavirus spreading”

Feb. 26: “It’s going to be very well under control. Now, it may get bigger, it may get a little bigger. It may not get bigger at all. We’ll see what happens. But regardless of what happens, we are totally prepared.” — press conference

Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”” — White House meeting with African American leaders

Feb. 29: “And I’ve gotten to know these professionals. They’re incredible. And everything is under control. I mean, they’re very, very cool. They’ve done it, and they’ve done it well. Everything is really under control.” — speech at CPAC, outside of Washington, D.C.

March 4: “[W]e have a very small number of people in this country [infected]. We have a big country. The biggest impact we had was when we took the 40-plus people [from a cruise ship]. … We brought them back. We immediately quarantined them. But you add that to the numbers. But if you don’t add that to the numbers, we’re talking about very small numbers in the United States.” —White House meeting with airline CEOs

March 4: “Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number.” — interview on Fox News, referring to the percentage of diagnosed COVID-19 patients worldwide who had died, as reported by the World Health Organization. (See our item “Trump and the Coronavirus Death Rate.”)

March 7: “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. No, we’ve done a great job.” — speaking to reporters, when asked if he was concerned about the arrival of the coronavirus in the Washington, D.C., area 

March 9: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” — on Twitter.

March 10: “And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” — after meeting with Republican senators

March 15: “This is a very contagious — this is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something that we have tremendous control over.” — White House task force briefing

March 16: “When I’m talking about control, I’m saying we are doing a very good job within the confines of what we’re dealing with. We’re doing a very good job. … If you’re talking about the virus, no, that’s not under control for any place in the world. … I was talking about what we’re doing is under control.” — White House task force press briefing

March 17: “I’ve always known this is a — this is a real — this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” — White House task force press briefing

March 23: “People get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies. You have death. Probably and — I mean, definitely — would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about with regard to the virus.” — White House task force briefing

March 24: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” — Fox News virtual town hall

“I brought some numbers here, we lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off, I mean every year. Now when I heard the number, we average 37,000 people a year. Can you believe that? And actually this year we’re having a bad flu season, but we lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies, say, ‘Stop making cars. We don’t want any cars anymore.’ We have to get back to work.” — Fox News virtual town hall

March 29: “But there were a lot of people that said — I thought about it. I said, ‘Maybe we should ride it through.’ You know, you always hear about the flu. I talk about it all the time. We had a bad flu season. We’re in the midst of a bad flu season. … But this is different. And part of this is the unknown, and part of it also is the viciousness of it.” — White House task force press briefing

“So you’re talking about 2.2. million deaths — 2.2 million people from this. And so, if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — that’s a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000; so we have between 100- and 200,000 — we all, together, have done a very good job. But 2.2, up to 2.2 million deaths and maybe even beyond that.” — White House task force press briefing

March 31: “I mean, I’ve had many friends, business people, people with great, actually, common sense, they said, ‘Why don’t we ride it out?’ A lot of people have said, a lot of people have thought about it, ‘Ride it out, don’t do anything, just ride it out, and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu.” — White House task force briefing

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Trump Falsely Claims He Inherited ‘Empty’ Stockpile

More than once, President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the federal stockpile of emergency medicine and supplies he inherited from his predecessor was an “empty shelf.”

While the government does not publicize all of the contents of the repository, at the time Trump took office, the Strategic National Stockpile, as it is formally known, reportedly contained vast amounts of materials that state and local health officials could use during an emergency, including vaccines, antiviral drugs, ventilators and protective gear for doctors and nurses.

“The SNS was definitely not an empty shell,” Dr. Tara O’Toole, a former homeland security official during the Obama administration who is now executive vice president at the nonprofit strategic investment firm In-Q-Tel, told us in an email.

At least three times in the past week, however, Trump has sought to blame former President Barack Obama’s administration for the current state of the stockpile, which has been unable to meet the demand for additional supplies expected to be needed to treat people with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, or to protect the doctors and nurses caring for those patients. 

During a White House coronavirus task force briefing on March 26, in which Trump mentioned the number of respirators, face shields and ventilators that had so far been distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the president said: “We took over an empty shelf. We took over a very depleted place, in a lot of ways.”

When a reporter asked him about that claim during another briefing the following day, Trump again said he inherited “an empty shelf” that he had to refill. 

And he continued to use that inaccurate description on March 30, during an interview with the hosts of “Fox & Friends.” “We started off with an empty shelf,” he said, adding, “We didn’t have very much in terms of medical product … and we built something really good.”

Strategic National Stockpile

The Strategic National Stockpile was created in 1999, and, as of April 2, was described on a Department of Health and Human Services website as “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”

(That description was later altered to say, “The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.” The change was made after Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, said on April 2: “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” Some interpreted Kushner’s remarks to mean the federal stockpile was not meant to be used by states, which would be false. But, in context, Kushner said the federal government is trying to “make informed data-driven decisions, both on ventilators, masks, any other supply we can get, to make sure it’s going to the people who need them.”)

Most of the materials in the stockpile are stored in large warehouses around the country, and where those warehouses are located, and exactly what’s in them, is not publicly disclosed.

But NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce was allowed to visit one facility in June 2016 — only months before Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. In her article about the warehouse she toured, she described the shelves as being the opposite of bare.

“A big American flag hangs from the ceiling, and shelves packed with stuff stand so tall that looking up makes me dizzy,” Greenfieldboyce wrote.

She continued:

Greenfieldboyce, for NPR, June 26, 2016: The Strategic National Stockpile got its start back in 1999, with a budget of about $50 million. Since then, even though the details aren’t public, it’s clear that it has amassed an incredible array of countermeasures against possible security threats.

The inventory includes millions of doses of vaccines against bioterrorism agents like smallpox, antivirals in case of a deadly flu pandemic, medicines used to treat radiation sickness and burns, chemical agent antidotes, wound care supplies, IV fluids and antibiotics.

I notice that one section of the warehouse is caged off and locked. Shirley Mabry, the logistics chief for the stockpile, says that’s for medicines like painkillers that could be addictive, “so that there’s no pilferage of those items.”

As we walk, I hear a loud hum. It’s a giant freezer packed with products that have to be kept cold.

Just outside it, there are rows upon rows of ventilators that could keep sick or injured people breathing. Mabry explains that they’re kept in a constant state of readiness. “If you look down to the side you’ll see there’s electrical outlets so they can be charged once a month,” she says. Not only that—the ventilators get sent out for yearly maintenance.

In fact, everything here has to be inventoried once a year, and expiration dates have to be checked. Just tending to this vast stash costs a bundle — the stockpile program’s budget is more than half a billion dollars a year.

And that was the scene at just one of the repositories where the medicine and supplies are housed. As of 2016, there were at least six warehouses holding “approximately $7 billion in products across more than 900 separate line items,” according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

VICE News reported on March 17 that its film crew was also allowed inside one of the facilities for an episode of “VICE News Tonight” that aired in December 2016.  

“[A]lthough we couldn’t reveal where it was or what exactly it had inside. It looked like a prepper’s Ikea, with row after row of containers filled with mystery medications and equipment — including that one item everyone’s been talking about lately, ventilators,” Vice News said.

In her story, Greenfieldboyce also quoted an official with a consulting firm the government had recently hired to analyze how well the stockpile could respond to a range of threats.

Rocco Casagrande, the managing director of Gryphon Scientific, told her that he couldn’t publicly discuss the results of the analysis. But, she wrote, he did say “that across the variety of threats that we examined, the Strategic National Stockpile has the adequate amount of materials in it and by and large the right type of thing.”

That doesn’t sound to us like empty shelves, either.

O’Toole, who also chaired an advisory committee on the stockpile for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, did tell us in an interview that “the SNS mission has expanded” over the years and “one could argue resources did not expand commensurately.”

But the idea that the stockpile should be able to provide all of the supplies needed during a pandemic is misguided, she said.

“It was never, never, never intended to be the full answer to any disaster,” she explained. “It was intended to bridge from the moment of crisis until a little while after when the private sector would be able to gear up and use the whole global supply chain to deliver what was needed.”

Some Supplies Not Fully Restocked

It’s true that some of the supplies in the stockpile that governors are currently asking the government to send to states were not completely restocked during Obama’s presidency.

For example, the Washington Post reported on March 10 that the reserves of the N95 respirator masks were not “significantly restored” after tens of millions of the devices were distributed from the stockpile during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009. Medical personnel wear the respirators because they can “filter out at least 95% of airborne particles,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Greg Burel, who was the director of the Strategic National Stockpile for more than 12 years until he retired in January, recently told CBS News: “We didn’t receive funds to replace those masks, protective gear and the anti-virals that we used for H1N1.” 

He told Vice News that he decided to use the program’s limited funding to instead purchase vaccines, flu medications and other pharmaceuticals.

“We had to trade off those funds that we had, and we chose to invest in those lifesaving drugs that would not be available from any other source, in the quantity needed, and in time. I definitely want to see my healthcare workers protected; that’s very important. But if I’m thinking, ‘Do I buy this many masks to protect this many workers, or do I buy this many medicines to keep people safe that we can’t get elsewhere?’ there’s no easy answer here,” Burel said.

In other cases, the Obama administration’s attempts to add more equipment, such as ventilators, to the stockpile were not successful.

As the New York Times reported earlier this week:

New York Times, March 29: Thirteen years ago, a group of U.S. public health officials came up with a plan to address what they regarded as one of the medical system’s crucial vulnerabilities: a shortage of ventilators.

The breathing-assistance machines tended to be bulky, expensive and limited in number. The plan was to build a large fleet of inexpensive portable devices to deploy in a flu pandemic or another crisis.

Money was budgeted. A federal contract was signed. Work got underway.

And then things suddenly veered off course. A multibillion-dollar maker of medical devices bought the small California company that had been hired to design the new machines. The project ultimately produced zero ventilators.

That failure delayed the development of an affordable ventilator by at least half a decade, depriving hospitals, states and the federal government of the ability to stock up. The federal government started over with another company in 2014, whose ventilator was approved only last year and whose products have not yet been delivered.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on March 15, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that there were 12,700 ventilators in the stockpile. At the time, there were 3,487 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of April 2, there were 239,279 reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. In a task force press briefing that same day, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk said that the U.S. has delivered more than 7,600 ventilators to the states, and still has some in reserve.

Still, O’Toole said she wishes there was less of a focus on expanding the stockpile because it will never be enough and will always lack something that is needed.

“You can’t stockpile your way out of a pandemic like this,” she emphasized.

One of the reasons for the current supply shortage, she said: “We’ve allowed our own national capacity to manufacture things to degrade and in some places go away. And we’ve done that for cost-efficiency sake.”

She later added: “What we need is not a big stockpile. We need a new strategy. We need to use the technologies we have now to create the capacity to respond to something in close to real-time.”

That means being able to “rapidly design and manufacture what we need, when we need it, and the quantities demanded,” she said.

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Misinformation on COVID-19 Death Protocols in New York

Quick Take

A viral Facebook post about COVID-19 falsely claims that in New York “every contaminated corpse belongs to the state” and will be incinerated without any “wakes or memorial services to pay your last respects.” The state is allowing funeral services with limited visitors; cremation is not mandated.

Full Story 

New York state has reported more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and nearly 3,000 deaths. New York City in particular has been described as an epicenter for the outbreak in the U.S.

But as New Yorkers navigate the public health crisis, a viral Facebook post is adding further alarm by spreading misinformation about what happens when someone dies from the disease. The repeatedly posted image claims that those who die will become property of the state and be incinerated without any “wakes or memorial services.”

That’s wrong, according to local and state agencies, as well as groups representing medical examiners and funeral directors.

The post uses a picture recently published by BuzzFeed News, which the outlet attributed to a New York City nurse, that is said to show COVID-19 victims in a refrigerated truck outside a city hospital.

“New York coronovirus victims,” the post reads. “They’re not letting you bury your own. There will be no wakes or memorial services to pay your last respects. Every contaminated corpse belongs to the state and will be exposed of in a incinerator.”

That’s not true.

Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, called the claim “ridiculous.” Mike Lanotte, the director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, told us in an email: “I have not seen or heard anything regarding that claim. We are still operating under the state’s guidelines.”

Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health, noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 20 executive order — which required non-essential businesses statewide to close — “does not apply to essential businesses or entities providing essential services or functions. Pursuant to Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) guidance, essential services include ‘funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries.'”

“Thus, funeral homes may continue to operate and hold services,” Hammond said in an email. “However, they should postpone services when possible. If services must be held, funeral homes should limit the size of any services or gatherings to as few participants as possible (e.g. immediate family).”

Scott Schmidt, president of the New York State Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, also told us that, to date, there has been no directive like the one described in the Facebook posts.

There is “NOTHING stating the State owns any body and will incinerate it upon verification of being infected with Covid-19,” Schmidt said in an email. “Funeral Directors, Coroners and Medical Examiners have been briefed on proper handling procedures for such cases as have Cemetery and Crematory Operators.”

In New York City, there have been numerous news reports about how the volume of deaths has overworked the system and transformed farewells for families. The demand has required the procurement of mobile morgues and created backlogs for cemeteries and crematoriums. Some cemeteries are not allowing visitors.

But the state hasn’t forbidden funeral homes or cemeteries from allowing services altogether. While the state encourages services be postponed or limited to immediate family, as we said, its Division of Cemeteries notes that “funeral homes and cemeteries may continue to operate and hold services.”

Lanotte, of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, said he was aware of “some cemeteries that are no longer, for safety reasons, allowing visitors.” While a Daily Beast report noted one funeral home’s decision to end visitation, that does not appear to be a widespread practice across the city or state. Lanotte said he has not “heard directly yet of any funeral homes ending visitations. I do know they have adjusted to the new guidelines and are offering private viewings/ceremonies for immediate family only.”

In some cases, funeral homes are following those guidelines but allowing those beyond immediate family to partake remotely by using Facebook Live or Zoom.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” New York Times. Accessed 3 Apr 2020.

Cruz, David. “Funeral Homes Are Facing ‘Unprecedented’ Demand Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.” Gothamist. 3 Apr 2020.

Division of Cemeteries. New York State Department of State. Accessed 3 Apr 2020.

Elder, Miriam. “A Nurse Shared A Harrowing Photo Of COVID-19 Victims To Show How Horrifying The Outbreak Is.” BuzzFeed News. 29 Mar 2020.

Feuer, Alan and Andrea Salcedo. “New York City Deploys 45 Mobile Morgues as Virus Strains Funeral Homes.” New York Times. 2 Apr 2020.

Governor Cuomo Signs the ‘New York State on PAUSE’ Executive Order.” New York State. 20 Mar 2020.

Guidance for Determining Whether a Business Enterprise is Subject to a Workforce Reduction Under Recent Executive Orders.” New York State Empire State Development Corporation. 27 Mar 2020.

Hammond, Jeffrey. Spokesman, New York State Department of Health. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Lanotte, Mike. Director, New York State Funeral Directors Association. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Schmidt, Scott M. President, New York State Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Seiner, Jake and John Minchillo. “‘Surreal’: NY funeral homes struggle as virus deaths surge.” Associated Press. 3 Apr 2020. 

Worthy-Davis, Aja. Spokeswoman, New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Email to FactCheck.org. 2 Apr 2020.

The post Misinformation on COVID-19 Death Protocols in New York appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Video Misconstrues Pelosi Tweet on ‘un-American Travel Ban’

Quick Take

A viral video makes the bogus claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Jan. 31 tweet criticized the Trump administration’s restriction on travelers from China to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Her tweet was unrelated to those travel restrictions.

Full Story

President Donald Trump instituted travel restrictions on five Muslim majority countries during his first year in office. This year, on Jan. 31, he added more countries to the list.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has opposed that policy from the start, took to Twitter to criticize the expansion, calling it an “un-American travel ban.”

Now, two months later, a video that’s been viewed more than 2 million times on Facebook and YouTube falsely claims that her tweet was about Trump’s decision on the same day to restrict travelers coming from China in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

These are two distinct and unrelated actions that were each taken on Jan. 31. Pelosi’s tweet wasn’t about the restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus.

In the first instance, Trump expanded his controversial ban on certain foreign nationals from mostly predominately Muslim countries. He added six new countries to the existing list of those affected — Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. Half of them are majority Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center.

Pelosi responded to that expansion in a tweet that said: “The Trump Admin’s expansion of its un-American travel ban is a threat to our security, our values and the rule of law. Barring more than 350 million people from predominantly African countries from traveling to the US, this rule is discrimination disguised as policy.”

The video claims that tweet is evidence that Pelosi had initially characterized Trump’s move to restrict travel from China as “overreacting” to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

It’s not. As we said, her tweet was addressing an unrelated policy that was signed on the same day.

In the second action, which was aimed at addressing the spread of the novel-coronavirus, Trump limited travel for non-U.S. citizens, except for the immediate family of citizens and permanent residents, who were in China within two weeks of coming to the U.S.

Pelosi has not addressed that policy on Twitter, or anywhere else that we could find. We searched the Congressional Record, reviewed her weekly press briefings and other public appearances, and scoured news coverage on LexisNexis. We could find no comment from Pelosi regarding her position on that decision.

The Dan Bongino Show,” which posted the video, did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Trump, Donald. Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats. 24 Sep 2017.

Gore, D’Angelo and Lori Robertson. “Trump’s ‘Travel Ban’ Doesn’t Affect All Muslims.” FactCheck.org. 28 Jun 2018.

Farley, Robert. “The Facts on Trump’s Travel Restrictions.” FactCheck.org. 6 Mar 2020.

Pelosi, Nancy (@SpeakerPelosi). “The Trump Admin’s expansion of its un-American travel ban is a threat to our security, our values and the rule of law. Barring more than 350 million people from predominantly African countries from traveling to the US, this rule is discrimination disguised as policy.” Twitter. 31 Jan 2020.

Trump, Donald. Proclamation on Improving Enhanced Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry. 31 Jan 2020.

Trump, Donald. Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus. 31 Jan 2020.

The post Video Misconstrues Pelosi Tweet on ‘un-American Travel Ban’ appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Trump, Biden and the Defense Production Act

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden repeatedly has criticized President Donald Trump for failing to make timely use of his powers under the Defense Production Act to compel companies to manufacture medical supplies that are expected to be needed to treat those infected with the novel coronavirus.

Biden claims he was one of the first to call for the need to use the Defense Production Act. The Trump campaign says Biden only began calling for that on the same day — March 18 — that Trump said he was invoking the act. There’s a bit of spin coming from both sides on this.

We couldn’t find evidence that Biden has been calling for use of the law for as long as he suggests, and Trump did not invoke the full force of the act back on March 18.

With the use of the Defense Production Act becoming a frequent point of contention between Trump and his critics, we thought it would be helpful to explain what the act is and how Trump has (and has not) applied it to date.

What Is the Defense Production Act?

First enacted in 1950 in response to the Korean War and last amended in 2018, the Defense Production Act provides the president broad authority to “influence domestic industry in the interest of national defense,” as a Congressional Research Service report put it in 2020.

“The authorities can be used across the federal government to shape the domestic industrial base so that, when called upon, it is capable of providing essential materials and goods needed for the national defense,” the CRS report states.

The law authorizes the president to identify businesses “capable” of producing “scarce and critical material” to “require acceptance and performance” of contracts to meet those needs. The act also allows the president to incentivize U.S. companies to expand production of critical materials with such things as “loans, loan guarantees, direct purchases and purchase commitments, and the authority to procure and install equipment in private industrial facilities,” the CRS report says.

As the New York Times reported, the law has been used hundreds of thousands of times during the Trump administration, “especially by the military to give its contract priority ratings to jump ahead of a vendor’s other clients.” The Times noted that in recent years, the administration has also used the powers contained in the act to restore power grids and to supply emergency food and water in areas devastated by hurricanes in 2017.

On Feb. 28, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar first signaled that the administration might use the Defense Production Act for the coronavirus to expedite contracts for medical supplies, such as face masks and gloves.

“I don’t have any procurements I need it for now, but if I need it, we’ll use it,” Azar said at a White House briefing.

“We’ll use it if we need to, but we, obviously, if we can work cooperatively with any vendor, we’d rather do that,” Azar said in a March 1 interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

On March 13, 57 House Democrats wrote a letter urging the president to “use the powers afforded by the Defense Production Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. §§4501 et seq.) to begin the mass production of supplies needed to address the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.”

The letter highlighted the likelihood of shortages of N95 respirators and face masks, testing equipment, and medical supplies like ventilators, and warned that “failure to act now” could “endanger American lives.”

“These authorities could be used to direct the domestic production of equipment currently in short supply, like personal protective equipment and ventilators,” the letter states. “This would ensure we have the materials we need at the ready, rather than wait for disruptions in the global supply chain to subside.

“During World War II, our country adapted to the demands of the time to produce mass quantities of bombers, tanks, and many small items needed to save democracy and freedom in the world,” the letter stated. “We know what the demands of this time are, and we must act now to meet these demands. We urge you to invoke the Defense Production Act without delay.”

Trump Invokes the Defense Production Act

Five days later, on March 18, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act “just in case we need it.” But Trump stopped short of implementing the act to force production of certain goods. Later that day, Trump tweeted, “I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need.”

Via Twitter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the move as “an important step,” but added, “so much more is needed NOW.”

That same day, Biden released a statement on “immediate actions” he believed the Trump administration should take to address the pandemic. It called for Trump to “Prioritize and immediately increase domestic production of any critical medical equipment required to respond to this crisis — such as the production of ventilators and associated training to operate — by invoking the Defense Production Act, delegating authority to HHS and FEMA. This action must be built on forecasted demand, using the best modeling currently available for negative scenarios.”

In the following days, Trump said that he was reluctant to use the Defense Production Act to force corporations to make products, likening such a move to “nationalizing our businesses.”

Trump, March 22: We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela; ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out. Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept.

Besides, he said, companies were voluntarily stepping up with offers to produce masks, ventilators and other needed medical supplies and equipment.

Trump, March 26: For the most part, the companies … We say, “We need this,” and they say, “Don’t bother. We’re going to do it.” I mean, we — we’re dealing with Ford, General Motors, 3M. We’re dealing with great companies. They want to do this. They want to do this. They’re doing things that — that frankly, they don’t need somebody to walk over there with a — with a hammer and say, “Do it.” They are getting it done.

We should note that compelling a company to produce supplies is not the same as “nationalizing” the business. Under the act, private businesses would be paid for their production and would remain private companies, not government entities.

What Biden Said and When

In recent days, Biden has criticized Trump for failing to fully use the Defense Production Act, something he says Trump should have done weeks or even months ago. Biden has also cast himself as one of the earliest to call for it.

  • According to a March 22 pool report of a Biden phone call, the Democratic candidate “reiterated his call for the president to invoke the ‘full power of the Defense Production Act’ and noted he called for that a month ago.”
  • In a YouTube speech on March 23, Biden said, “As of late yesterday, we’re told that the president still has not activated the authority under the Defense Production Act, which I and others call for him to invoke immediately and act on, to direct American manufacturers to make essential supplies. Trump keeps saying that he’s a wartime president, well start to act like one. … We need to get in motion. Get in motion today what we should have set in motion weeks ago.
  • “I would have enacted it a long time ago, Jake,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper on March 24. “I think it was three — two, three weeks ago I pointed out that the president should enact this. It should have been enacted months ago.”
  • During an online news conference the following day, Biden said, “I think it’s really important that we understand that this idea of this Defense Production Act, he talks about signing, he doesn’t want to dictate to companies. There’s things we need now, now, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but months ago or a month ago, and the president’s not acting.”
  • And finally, on MSNBC on March 30, Biden said, “I talked about doing the Defense Production Act before anyone came along.”

The Trump campaign said that as far as it could tell, the first time Biden ever called for Trump to use the Defense Production Act was on March 18, the same day Trump invoked it (but did not use it to compel a company to start producing something).

We reached out to the Biden campaign for evidence that Biden had called for use of the Defense Production Act prior to that, but we got no response. We could not find any public comments from Biden prior to the statement he put out on March 18 — which we referenced earlier.

Prior to March 18, we found instances of Biden talking generally, as he did on March 12, about the need to “surge our capacity” at hospitals, and make “sure communities have the hospital beds available, the staff, the medical supplies, the personal protective equipment necessary to treat the patient.”

Biden did not mention the Defense Production Act in the Democratic debate on March 15, where he encouraged viewers to see his full, detailed plan to combat COVID-19 on his campaign website. Nor does that plan, which was initially posted to the campaign website on March 12, mention the Defense Production Act.

Biden’s plan says only that the federal government should “[w]ork with businesses to expand production of personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, and additional products such as bleach and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Incentivize greater supplier production of these critically important medically supplies, including committing, if necessary, to large scale volume purchasing and removing all relevant trade barriers to their acquisition.”

“Work[ing] with businesses to expand production of personal protective equipment” was essentially the Trump administration policy at the time.

If his first public call for Trump to use the Defense Production Act was March 18, Biden would have been exaggerating when he said on March 22 that he called for that a month before, or on March 24 when he said he made those calls “two, three weeks ago.”

It also would have been five days after 57 House members wrote to the president urging him to use the act, and two days after his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, publicly called on Trump “to use existing emergency authority under the Defense Production Act to dramatically scale up production in the United States of critical supplies such as masks, ventilators, and protective equipment that our health care workers need.”

We will update this story if the Biden campaign gets back to us with earlier examples.

We can say for sure, though, that Biden has repeatedly claimed to have issued a warning about the seriousness of the virus earlier than he actually did.

“All of the way back in January 17, I wrote a piece for U.S. News & World Report saying, ‘We have got a real problem. The president, we have — coronavirus is real. We have to start acting now,'” Biden said in a March 24 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The op-ed he wrote was actually for USA Today, and it was published on Jan. 27, not Jan. 17. Those 10 days make a big difference. Biden’s op-ed on Jan. 27 was just four days before the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on those who had traveled to China in the previous two weeks. Had Biden published that op-ed on Jan. 17, he would have been well ahead of the curve.

We would chalk up Biden’s date mix-up to a simple misstatement, but he has cited that same incorrect date at least three other times since.

  • “For example, way back in January 17th I argued that this virus was coming. I did a, I think it was US News and World Report, I did a piece on saying it’s coming. We’ve got to prepare,” Biden said in an online news conference on March 25
  • “I wrote an article back in January 17th saying we should be prepared now and laid out the things that I thought we should be doing then,” he said in a CNN town hall on March 27.
  • “You may recall, I was the first one to call for the president, way back in January 17th, to take this seriously,” Biden said on March 30 on MSNBC. “A real serious crisis is coming, an article I wrote.”
Trump Uses Defense Production Act

On March 23, Trump signed a new executive order “to prohibit the hoarding of needed resources,” citing the authority given to him under the Defense Production Act. On March 30, federal authorities invoked that order when they charged a Brooklyn man for hoarding surgical masks, medical gowns and other medical supplies that authorities said he was selling at inflated prices from his home.

Despite his early reluctance to employ the Defense Production Act to compel businesses to make supplies necessary for the COVID-19 response, Trump said in a March 27 press conference that he had invoked the act “to compel General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators.”

Trump also tapped Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser, to act as national Defense Production Act policy coordinator. At the press conference, Navarro explained that the Defense Production Act was employed to compel General Motors to make ventilators only after the federal government “ran into roadblocks” in its negotiations with GM over production.

Navarro, March 27: We need industrial mobilization to make adequate ventilators, particularly in the very short run, to help people of New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, all around this country, as this virus bears down. And the ventilators really are the most important thing for patients who become most seriously ill. They’re literally the lifeline for people. And I’ve personally been working with FEMA, and I’ve been working with HHS and over 10 ventilator companies, making sure we can get what we need as quickly as possible. And virtually every one of those companies has been cooperative, patriotic, moving in Trump time — which is to say as soon as possible, sir. But we did have a problem with GM and Ventec. On the one hand, we had Ford and GE moving forward on a similar kind of project, patriotically moving as fast as possible. Over the last several days, we ran into roadblocks with GM. We cannot afford to lose a single day, particularly over the next 30 to 60 days. So President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act as a way of enhancing and accelerating this mobilization.

In an interview on CNN on March 31, Biden said Trump’s action was too slow, and too limited.

Biden, March 31: And he’s been very slow to act. For whatever the reason has been. Been very slow to act on a whole range of things. For example, he still hasn’t fully invoked the Defense Production Act. Which I called for a while ago. He finally did with General Motors after a little roundabout in terms of building ventilators. What about the masks? What about those gowns that those nurses and doctors need? They’re made of paper. What about the goggles the need, the face shields, what about the gloves they need? He can do that by the Defense Production Act right now. He could have done it yesterday, a week ago, three weeks ago, five weeks ago. They’re in short supply. And our first responders are literally risking and some losing their lives to try to help the American people.

Biden is entitled to his opinion that the president acted slowly and “still hasn’t fully invoked the Defense Production Act.” But we could find no evidence that Biden called for the president to use the act prior to March 18, despite his repeated claims that he had done so much earlier.

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Hoax Letter Stirs Confusion About Missouri Schools

Quick Take

A false claim that students in Missouri will have to repeat the school year was pushed online through a viral letter with a state logo as part of an April Fool’s hoax. State officials have publicly debunked the claim.

Full Story 

A fictitious letter that circulated on Facebook as part of an apparent April Fool’s joke stirred confusion about whether students in the state would need to repeat the school year.

While many shared the phony letter in jest, the falsehood arrived amid the rapidly changing interruptions of everyday life in Missouri and across the U.S. as the country confronts the novel coronavirus outbreak. That combination worked to deceive some, apparently, and prompted state officials to publicly address the hoax.

The fake letter, dated April 1, claimed that “Missouri case law on education makes it very clear that if students can not take the necessary final exams in a class room setting & they can not complete the curriculum that was established at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year no one enrolled in a public school in the state of Missouri can be allowed to be promoted to their next grade level.

“This means that whatever grade each of your students started at in August of 2019 will need to be repeated,” it read.

The false claim was not unique — we wrote about a spate of similar April Fool’s headlines from a prank-generating website — but it went further by employing the official logo of the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. The letter’s detail about final exams may have also been read as a reference to the department’s recent (actual) announcement to cancel statewide required assessments this year.

Mallory McGowin, a spokeswoman for the department, told us in an interview that the agency received multiple inquiries about the fake letter.

“We were getting approached by several different of our stakeholder groups inquiring about this or letting us know this was an issue unfolding pretty quickly,” she said. “Because of the current times, I think in some people’s minds, it seemed like it could be a logical conclusion from what’s been happening.”

“It seems particularly insensitive given the circumstances and given the anxiety and uncertainty that our students, parents and educators are already facing,” she added. “There’s really no room for that kind of misinformation to spread right now.”

The education department — and Gov. Mike Parson — took to social media to publicly debunk the letter.

“We could not be more disappointed that someone chose to use their free time to create this document, illegally using our department logo, and make a joke about something as serious as our students’ education,” the department wrote in part.

One Missouri principal commented and thanked the department for “clearing this up. I had parents very concerned. Not funny.” Other commenters deemed it an obvious April Fool’s prank and observed that the letter was signed by “Candice B. Fureal” (which sounds like “can this be for real”).

As of now, all of the state’s 555 school districts and charter schools are closed. The earliest some are currently permitted to reopen is April 6, but that is likely to change as the state navigates the outbreak. The state has reported more than 1,800 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, which caused the COVID-19 disease, and 19 deaths.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information.” Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. Accessed 2 Apr 2020.

COVID-19 Outbreak.” Missouri Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed 2 Apr 2020.

Department Cancels Required Statewide Assessments Due to COVID-19: Impact on Local Education Agencies and 2020 Graduating Seniors.” Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. 1 Apr 2020.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “April Fool’s Posts Falsely Claim Students Must Repeat the School Year.” FactCheck.org. 1 Apr 2020.

McGowin, Mallory. Spokeswoman, Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 2 Apr 2020.

Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (@MOEducation). “This fake letter is circulating on social media, saying DESE will not allow students to move on to the next grade level for the 2020-2021 school year because #COVID19 caused school closures and statewide required assessments to be cancelled. ➡️ That is simply not true. ⬅️…” Facebook. 1 Apr 2020.

The post Hoax Letter Stirs Confusion About Missouri Schools appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Lemon Juice Tea Does Not Cure COVID-19 in Israel, or Anywhere Else

Quick Take

A post circulating on social media falsely claims that a blend of sodium bicarbonate and lemon juice will “eliminate” the novel coronavirus. The post also claims this “cure” has prevented any COVID-19 deaths in Israel — but more than 30 people have died of the disease there.

Full Story

As COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads around the world, numerous false and misleading claims of “cures” for the virus are spreading on social media.

A recent claim is from a post titled “In Israel No Death from COVID 19.”  It falsely states that the “cure” for COVID-19, “or the way to eliminate it,” has been discovered, and that it comes from Israel, where it says the virus “did not cause any death.”

In reality, as of April 2, more than 6,800 people in Israel have tested positive for COVID-19, and 36 have died. Over 100 people were in serious condition and 83 were on life support.

The post also claims that this “cure” is the reason that the “People of Israel is relaxed” about COVID-19.

Actually, the Israeli government has issued emergency regulations that include reducing entry to the public space, imposing responsibility on employers, closing non-essential stores and imposing restrictions on public transport, as well as “home isolation” guidelines.

The post’s “recipe” for the phony cure includes lemon and bicarbonate — short for sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, which is commonly used as an antacid.

“Mix and drink as hot tea every afternoon,” the post says. “The action of the lemon with hotter baking soda immediately kills the virus [and] completely eliminates it from the body.”

This claim is baseless. According to the World Health Organization, “to date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus.”

Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, confirmed this in an interview.

“There’s no data that shows using lemon juice or hot tea or anything like that would kill a virus,” she said.

Angela Rogers, assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University Medical Center, noted in an email that “there is nothing that has been shown yet to kill or eliminate COVID-19 virus, and it’s still not clear whether any other therapies in the news (steroids, targeted immune modulators, azithromycin, hydroxychloroquine) are actually helpful.”

Kuppalli said people can lower their risk of contracting the virus by washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, maintaining distance from each other, and following public health measures that have been implemented in their area.

We’ve reported on many falsehoods and misleading statements about the new coronavirus. See “A Guide to Our Coronavirus Coverage” for stories, videos and resources.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters.” World Health Organization. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

Live Updates//Netanyahu, Mossad Chief to Enter Quarantine After Health Minister Diagnosed With Coronavirus.” Haaretz. 2 Apr 2020.

The Novel Coronavirus: Emergency Regulations.” State of Israel Ministry of Health. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

Kuppalli, Krutika. Infectious diseases physician and fellow, Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 1 Apr 2020.

Rogers, Angela. Assistant professor of medicine, Stanford University Medical Center. Email to FactCheck.org. 1 Apr 2020.

 

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April Fool’s Posts Falsely Claim Students Must Repeat the School Year

Quick Take

April Fool’s Day brought a spate of false posts claiming students will have to repeat the school year. While many schools across the U.S. closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no indication they’ll call for repeating the school year.

Full Story

The combined forces of the COVID-19 pandemic and the internet have made this April Fool’s Day a treacherous one. Jokes that may have once been good for a laugh among friends now have the potential to mislead social media users at a time when dangerous misinformation on health and public policy is proliferating.

One prank-generating website has been used to make dozens of false headlines, including many versions of a claim that students will have to repeat the school year:

All of these posts, which were shared on Facebook, link back to the prank-generating website that shows this message: “April Fools!” But if users don’t click through, all they see is what looks like a regular news headline paired with a picture of a public official. In the case of the headlines above, most featured a picture of the governor of the state that was named.

While many schools have closed in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, we haven’t found any indication that students will have to repeat a grade. All of the states mentioned above — Virginia, California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois — have closed schools. Some have suspended testing requirements. But none have recommended repeating the school year.

The same prank site has created a spate of other bogus headlines, including some that fuel rumors we’ve already debunked.

So, be wary of alarming headlines shared on social media. Like the fake posts about the school year, they may not be true.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Prank Mania. About Prank Mania. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

Governor Northam Orders Statewide Closure of Certain Non-Essential Businesses, K-12 Schools.” governor.virginia.gov. 23 Mar 2020.

California Department of Education. “State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Issues Statement on 2019-20 School Year Amid Current School Safety Concerns.” 31 Mar 2020.

Tennessee Office of the Governor. “Governor Lee Issues Statement Regarding Statewide School Closure.”  16 Mar 2020.

Pennsylvania Department of Education. School Guidance — Answers to Common Questions. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

Murphy, Phil (@GovMurphy). “To slow the spread of #COVID19, I’m ordering: •Closure of ALL pre-K, K-12 schools, higher ed insts. beginning 3/18 •Closure of ALL casinos, racetracks, theaters, gyms •Closure of ALL non-essential retail, recreational, & entertainment bizs after 8pm •Banning gatherings of 50+” Twitter. 16 Mar 2020.

Illinois State Board of Education. School Wellness — Coronavirus. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

The post April Fool’s Posts Falsely Claim Students Must Repeat the School Year appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Biden’s False Claim on Trump’s Response to Coronavirus

Former Vice President Joe Biden was wrong when he said that the Trump administration made no effort to get U.S. medical experts into China as the novel coronavirus epidemic spread there early this year.

“[W]hen we were talking … early on in this crisis, we said — I said, among others, that, you know, you should get into China, get our experts there, we have the best in the world, get them in so we know what’s actually happening,” Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said at a CNN virtual town hall on March 27. “There was no effort to do that.”

Except that isn’t the case.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to get into China just one week after China reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019.

“On January 6, we offered to send a CDC team to China that could assist with these public health efforts,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a Jan. 28 press conference. “I reiterated that offer when I spoke to China’s Minister of Health on Monday, and it was reiterated again via the World Health Organization today. We are urging China: More cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take toward a more effective response.”

More than a week later, Azar said again at a Feb. 7 press conference that “our longstanding offer to send world-class experts to China to assist remains on the table.” 

At the time, the New York Times reported, “Normally, teams from the agency’s Epidemic Intelligence Service can be in the air within 24 hours.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to our requests for comment.

A team of public health experts from the WHO was allowed by Chinese authorities to visit Wuhan, where the outbreak began, later in February, according to the South China Morning Post. The team included specialists from the United States as well as Germany, Russia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Nigeria.

Biden was correct at the town hall when he said the Trump administration had eliminated a position set up by the Obama administration, in which Biden served, to coordinate the response to pandemics like the coronavirus crisis. But he got the timing wrong, and Trump administration officials say it was a reorganization, with the responsibilities of that office falling to other individuals.

“We set up an office within the White House directly to stay focused on this, in the president — in the White House and — to deal with pandemics,” Biden said. “And the first thing this president did, maybe not the first but very first, he eliminated the office, took it out of the White House.”

But it was hardly among the “first things” the Trump administration did. It happened well into Trump’s second year in office.

As we reported on March 3 and March 20, the Trump administration did indeed eliminate a key position that would have been involved in pandemic response.

The Washington Post reported that former National Security Adviser John Bolton dissolved the NSC’s Office of Global Health Security and Biodefense in May 2018 in a reorganization effort. That’s when Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, who was senior director of the office, left his post. He was not replaced.

According to the Atlantic and the Washington Post, some team members were shifted to other groups, and others took over some of Ziemer’s duties. An NSC spokesman at the time said that the administration “remains committed to global health, global health security and biodefense, and will continue to address these issues with the same resolve under the new structure.”

In a November 2019 report, the Center for Strategic & International Studies recommended restoring the global health security position on the NSC as one of seven key changes to better protect the American public from global health threats.

As the discussion continued at the town hall, Biden said, “And in addition to that, what happened was, we had one person in country who was working — he pulled him out of the country.”

It’s hard to say precisely what the former vice president was referring to as he didn’t complete the thought, and, as we said, the Biden campaign did not respond to our requests for elaboration. Presumably Biden was referring to the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate a public health position in China whose mission was to monitor disease outbreaks in that country, as reported by Reuters last month.

Reuters, March 22: The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases exploded, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to help.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Bao-Ping Zhu, a Chinese American who served in that role, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.”

Zhu and the other sources said the American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases.

But Quick was not the only U.S. health professional in China, although Reuters reported that the number there had been sharply reduced. The news agency reported on March 25 that the CDC contingent, 47 when Trump took office, has been reduced to 14.

So Biden is hardly alone in criticizing the Trump administration for making moves that may have hampered the response to the coronavirus. But he certainly could be much more precise in his assertions, and he was wrong to say the administration made “no effort” to get medical experts into China after the outbreak was reported.

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Video: Trump’s Misleading Attacks on Cuomo

In this video, we look at two misleading attacks President Donald Trump has lodged against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has been dealing with an explosion of COVID-19 infections.

Hitting back at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pleas for the federal government to provide more ventilators, Trump misleadingly claimed Cuomo rejected a 2015 recommendation to purchase 16,000 ventilators and instead “established death panels” and “lotteries.”

Contrary to the president’s claim, a state task force in 2015 did not make a recommendation about purchasing more ventilators. That was outside the scope of the group, Valerie Gutmann Koch, the former senior attorney and special consultant to the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, told us via email. The report — “Ventilator Allocation Guidelines” — provided guidelines for New York hospitals on how they should decide which patients get ventilators in the event of a severe influenza pandemic.

Koch also said it is inaccurate to call the triage committees proposed by the New York task force “death panels.”

The 2015 ventilator allocation protocol is intended to save the most lives in an influenza pandemic where there are a limited number of available ventilators,” Koch told us.

In a “Fox & Friends” phone interview on March 30, Trump also misleadingly noted that 4,000 ventilators delivered to New York from the federal stockpile are being kept in a “warehouse which happens to be located – which is interesting — in Edison, New Jersey,” suggesting New York didn’t need them. Cuomo said the ventilators are being stored in anticipation of peak demand in the coming weeks.

For more information about these and other misleading claims Trump has made about Cuomo’s response to the pandemic, see our stories, “Trump’s Misleading Ventilator Counter-Punch at Cuomo” and  “Trump vs. Cuomo, Round 2.”

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Baseless Attack on News Media Over Photo of Coffins

Quick Take

A viral post on Facebook claims without substantiation that the “media” is running a photo of coffins from a 2017 movie with news stories about the novel coronavirus pandemic in Italy. The picture is actually from 2013; it did appear in the 2017 movie, too, but there’s no evidence it’s being used by credible news organizations now.

Full Story 

Facebook users are spreading a false claim that the “MSM” — mainstream media — is using an image from a 2017 movie in its coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The viral post — a screenshot of one user’s text-and-photos post — suggests that the picture, showing rows of coffins, was taken from a 2017 movie and is now being circulated by news organizations as an image related to the outbreak in Italy.

The picture was indeed used in that movie, but it was originally taken in 2013 by an Associated Press photographer. We could find no evidence of news organizations today using it to illustrate the pandemic’s toll in Italy, where more than 12,400 deaths have been reported.

The post claims: “Ok, Patriots so I’m watching the movie UNLOCKED on Showtime and this scene pops up of coffins lined up and guess where I saw that exact picture… from our MSM telling us that this is ITALY right now because of COVID 19 virus!!” 

“This movie was made in 2017! It’s on Showtime right now!” it continues. “This proves that you cannot trust the Media!!!”

Many of the screenshots simply show that the photo appeared on a website for CTV News, a Canadian news organization.

But some larger versions of the post further show that the example cited was actually connected to a CTV story dealing with “African migrants.” We found that story, which was reported by the Associated Press. It’s from 2013, not 2020, and the caption described the image as showing an airport hangar filled with coffins of African migrants who died in a shipwreck near an Italian island in 2013.

The same picture was indeed used in the movie “Unlocked,” which came out four years later. (We checked.)

Screenshot, “Unlocked” movie

So the central claim of the argument — that the “media” is currently using the photo in coverage of the novel coronavirus — isn’t supported by the original post, or any evidence we could find.

Reverse image searches on Google and Tin Eye didn’t turn up any recent news coverage using the picture in that context.

Ironically, the fact-checking divisions of two reputable news organizations — Agence France-Presse and Reuters — have debunked claims advanced on social media that similar images from the airport hangar showed coffins for victims of the coronavirus pandemic. The outlets correctly pointed out that the pictures were, in fact, from 2013.

We tracked down the Facebook user who shared the initial claim about the “MSM” — and whose profile contains numerous references to the QAnon conspiracy theory — and asked for any examples to back up the claim. We haven’t heard back.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Bruno, Luca and Andrea Rosa. “Caskets of African migrants lined up in Italian airport hangar.” Associated Press. 5 Oct 2013.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.” Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 31 Mar 2020.

Mason, Charlotte. “These photos show the coffins of victims of a boat disaster in 2013.” Agence France-Presse. 27 Mar 2020.

False claim: Photo shows coffins of coronavirus victims in Italy.” Reuters. 28 Mar 2020.

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Trump’s Spin on ‘Broken’ Testing

While his administration has faced criticism for being slow to ramp up testing for coronavirus infections, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that the problem was with his predecessors, saying the administration “inherited a broken system” that it “rebuilt.” That’s misleading.

The president has a point that the testing system of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alone couldn’t conduct the kind of wide-scale testing the coronavirus pandemic demanded, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said.

But several former officials have reiterated Fauci’s comments, explaining that the CDC simply isn’t set up to be a commercial test lab, let alone the only test lab for the country in a pandemic like this. And it was more than a month after the administration declared a public health emergency that it took steps to allow testing to be conducted more broadly, including by the private sector.

“The CDC designed a good system.” Fauci said on March 13. “If you want to get the kind of blanket testing and availability that anybody can get it or you could even do surveillance to find out what the penetrance is, you have to embrace the private sector.”

Another problem, which we’ve outlined before, was a manufacturing issue with the CDC’s test kits, which it had sent to state and local public health labs in early February.

The CDC didn’t provide a fix for the manufacturing issue for more than two weeks after it revealed the problem. The Food and Drug Administration then, on Feb. 29, said it would allow labs to create and use their own in-house tests immediately, and about a week later, private diagnostic companies began to step in with their own tests.

Weeks prior, two former Trump administration officials, in a Jan. 28 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, had recommended working with the private sector to meet the anticipated testing needs, saying past experience showed the CDC wouldn’t be able to handle the volume of testing.

“If the number of cases increases, experience from the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the 2015 Zika epidemic suggests that the CDC will struggle to keep up with the volume of screening. Government should focus on working with private industry to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests that can be made available to providers,” wrote Luciana Borio, former director for medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, and Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA.

Dr. Pierre E. Rollin, who worked for the CDC for 27 years, retiring in 2019 as head of an epidemiology team for the Viral Special Pathogens branch, told us the U.S. government, and the CDC in particular, “never had the capability” to produce large quantities of tests. It hasn’t been the case, Rollin said, that one institution “governmental or nongovernmental” would produce test kits for the entire population.

Rollin pointed to flu testing as an example: Those are commercial tests, with the CDC playing a role in checking different commercial tests and helping labs verify they’re getting good results.

“I don’t think it would be reasonable for a government institution to decide to compete with private industry. That doesn’t make sense,” said Rollin, who wrote a March 26 opinion piece for STAT, saying it “shouldn’t come as a surprise” that the CDC wasn’t able to respond quickly to a pandemic like this but questioning why the CDC “seems to be sitting on the sidelines for this pandemic” now. 

Borio also told NPR in a late March interview that “traditionally, our nation has relied on the CDC to get the initial testing out to public health labs. So they’re the first to launch, and they have done so with tremendous success over prior epidemics. But we have to remember that they’re not a manufacturing facility; they are a research and reference lab,” she said. “And in this instance, they encountered some serious technical challenges which really exposed a significant vulnerability in our national capability to roll out tests quickly.”

Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the CDC during the Obama administration, from 2009 to 2017, similarly told USA Today that Trump’s claim about a “broken” testing system is “just wrong. They inherited the system that has worked in every prior emergency. Now, it’s fair to say this is an emergency like no other. But CDC tests were never supposed to meet the entire need for the United States.”

Frieden said in a March 31 opinion piece for USA Today that in addition to the CDC’s flawed test kit being a problem, the FDA “was slow to allow hospital labs to develop their own tests” and the Department of Health and Human Services was also late in working with the private sector to develop widely distributed tests.

Trump, however, has blamed “a testing situation that just wasn’t right,” as he said in the March 29 coronavirus task force briefing. “It was okay for very small cases, but it was obsolete and it was broken, and it was only good for a very small situation.”

Former and current officials have explained that having the CDC distribute tests was only good for a relatively small situation, but that doesn’t mean the system was “obsolete” or “broken.”

The following day, the president repeated the assertion, saying in the task force briefing that “this administration inherited a broken system, a system that was obsolete, a system that didn’t work. It was okay for a tiny, small group of people, but once you got beyond that, it didn’t work.” He added, “We have built an incredible system.”

And Trump said in a March 30 “Fox & Friends” interview: “We inherited a broken test. The whole thing was broken and we rebuilt it.” (There was, of course, no inherited “test” for the new coronavirus, but the president appears to have misspoke in that instance. He went on to talk about the amount of testing being done now in the United States.)

We asked the White House for an explanation of the president’s repeated comments, but we haven’t received a response.

Here we provide a timeline of the testing issues and the administration’s statements and response.

Jan. 18: The CDC test was operational, as a subsequent CDC report suggests.

Jan. 20: The CDC used its own kit to confirm the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Jan. 24: The CDC confirms the second case in the U.S. “Currently, testing must take place at CDC, but CDC is preparing to share these test kits with domestic and international partners,” the agency said.

Jan. 31: The Department of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency for the U.S.

Feb. 5: The CDC ships test kits to state and local public health labs, as well as international labs.

Feb. 12: The CDC reveals that some labs were having problems when doing verification tests to make sure the tests worked. It was a manufacturing problem with one component of the test, CDC later says.

Feb. 25: Only 12 state or local labs out of more than 100 nationwide could do their own testing — in addition to the CDC processing tests itself. “Commercial labs will also be coming online soon with their own tests,” a CDC official tells reporters.

Feb. 28: The CDC says it had a fix for the manufacturing problem and had manufactured new tests.

Feb. 29: The FDA says labs can create and use their own in-house tests as long as they complete an emergency use authorization request within 15 days.

March 4: Trump falsely claims that he had to end an Obama-era FDA “rule” to more quickly provide diagnostic tests to the public. Experts later told us no such formal regulation was ever implemented under President Barack Obama. Trump may have been referring to the Feb. 29 FDA announcement, allowing labs to use their own tests before getting an emergency use authorization approved by the FDA. But that announcement allowed an exception to a de facto FDA policy; there was no “rule” that needed to be overturned.

March 5: LabCorp says its test is available for health care providers to order. Quest Diagnostics says it will provide testing four days later.

March 6: The U.S. had conducted 1,326 tests, according to data collected by The COVID Tracking Project, including tests with results pending. The group, run by journalists, researchers, scientists and others, says it attempts to provide “the number of people being tested, not specimens submitted,” but it also notes state public health authorities, the source of the bulk of the data, are inconsistent in the way they report their information and the quality of their data varies.

March 12: In a congressional hearing, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz asks who was in charge of “making sure … as many people as possible across this country have access to getting tested as soon as possible.” Fauci answers: “The system — the system does not — is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failing. … The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we are not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we are not.”

March 13: Trump declares a national emergency. The administration holds a coronavirus task force briefing in which Trump announces a “new partnership” with the private sector. “Ten days ago, I brought together the CEOs of commercial labs at the White House and directed them to immediately begin working on a solution to dramatically increase the availability of tests,” he says.

At the same briefing, Fauci says: “The system was not designed — for what it was designed for it worked very well. The CDC designed a good system. If you want to get the kind of blanket testing and availability that anybody can get it or you could even do surveillance to find out what the penetrance is, you have to embrace the private sector. And this is exactly what you’re seeing, because you can’t do it without it. So when I said that, I meant the system was not designed for what we need. Now, looking forward, the system will take care of it.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, credits Trump for asking for “an entire overhaul of the testing approach” and calling on “private sector laboratories” to develop tests. “Following the meeting last week, major commercial laboratory equipment and diagnostic companies took immediate action to adopt and develop new testing systems,” she says.

Trump and Birx suggest Google was developing a screening website that large numbers of Americans could use to see if they should be tested and where they could go to get a test. But it turns out the website is a project of a sister company to Google and limited to the San Francisco Bay Area.

March 16: Roche announces that it will have completed shipping the first 400,000 of its high-volume tests to hospitals and reference labs by the end of the week.

March 16: A total of 41,814 tests had been conducted in the U.S., according to The COVID Tracking Project.

March 21: The FDA announces it has given emergency use authorization to a 45-minute test developed by Cepheid for point-of-care use in hospitals to help manage patients and health care workers. Cepheid plans to start shipping tests by the end of March.

March 24: Trump and other administration officials tout a milestone in testing, saying by that day the U.S. will have done “more testing” in eight days than South Korea had done “in eight weeks.” But on a per-capita basis, the U.S. still lags behind South Korea, and other countries, as we explain.

Trump says, without evidence, that the U.S. test “is considered the best test.” One expert told us there’s “no reason to believe US tests are any better (or worse)” than those being run in other countries.

March 27: Abbott labs announces that it has received emergency use authorization from the FDA for its point-of-care test, which provides results within 13 minutes. Unlike the LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics tests, specimens don’t need to be mailed in to be tested — a process that can take several days — and instead can be run on a toaster-sized machine in urgent care clinics or doctors’ offices.

March 31: The U.S. had conducted 1.1 million tests, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

March 31: Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio tells CNN the state isn’t “quite sure” when it will see a peak in cases but expects it will be “between mid-April and mid-May.” DeWine says: “Part of this is driven by the fact that we don’t have, you know, widespread testing. That is not unique to Ohio.”

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