In his first coronavirus briefing since April, President Donald Trump got a little more accurate about the state of the pandemic in the US – but also continued to make some of the same false claims and promote some of the same misleading narratives of his previous moments in the White House briefing room.
Trump, reading from prepared remarks, acknowledged a “concerning rise” in cases in the South (he had previously dismissed the sharp increase as mere evidence of how many people are being tested) and said the situation will get worse before it gets better (he had previously claimed, as late as June, that the virus was dying out).
But Trump’s new tone, like previous Trump new tones, did not last long.
He continued to boast that the US has done many more tests than other countries, ignoring the fact that many peer nations did so much better controlling the virus that they haven’t needed to keep conducting so many tests.
He continued to say that the virus “will disappear,” declining to acknowledge the inaccuracy of his previous suggestions that it would disappear without much harm to the American public – or the possibility that it will take years for the virus to be eradicated, if it goes away at all.
And Trump repeated some of the specific false claims we and others fact checked repeatedly in earlier stages of the crisis: his claim that he inherited “empty cupboards” of supplies and ventilators, that he shut US borders to China and Europe, and that governors do not need anything from the federal government.
He also repeated one of his favorite non-pandemic-related lies: that he is the one who got the Obama-era Veterans Choice health program passed after others had tried and failed for decades.
Here are some of the false claims he repeated on Tuesday:
At Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, Trump repeated his false claim that his administration passed the Veteran’s Choice Act, which provided the Department of Veterans Affairs more resources to improve access for veterans and allow them to seek care from non-VA providers.
“We got Veteran’s Choice, nobody thought that would be possible that’s been many decades they’ve been trying to get veterans choice,” Trump said.
Facts First: The Veterans Choice bill was a bipartisan initiative led by Sens. Bernie Sanders and the late John McCain, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the program.
This is among the President’s most repeated false claims. Since CNN started counting on July 8, 2019, Trump has repeated that claim more than 60 times.
The President tried to shift blame for his administration’s delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic on his predecessor, claiming once again that he inherited “very empty cupboards.”
Facts First: The Strategic National Stockpile was not empty before the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the stockpile contains enough smallpox vaccines for every American, among other medical resources. And while the stockpile of some critical supplies that could be used to combat coronavirus was drained and not replenished, Trump had three years in office to build those depleted stockpiles back up.
Trump has also previously claimed the US didn’t have any ventilators when he took office or when the coronavirus pandemic hit. However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CNN in late June that there had been about 19,000 ventilators in the national stockpile for “many years,” including 16,660 ventilators that were ready for immediate use in March 2020; the spokesperson confirmed that none of those 16,660 were purchased by the Trump administration.
Ultimately, Trump ignored the warnings of experts and failed to restock masks and prepare other supplies to fight a potential pandemic.
You can read a longer fact check on Trump’s claims about inheriting an empty cupboard of supplies here.
Travel restrictions against Europe and China
Touting the actions his administration took to address the coronavirus, Trump claimed, “We closed the border to China, we put on the ban.” He later added, “I closed the borders from Europe.”
Facts First: It’s misleading for Trump to say he closed the US border to travel from China and Europe because both policies contained multiple exemptions, including for US citizens and permanent residents; the Europe policy exempted entire countries. Only foreign nationals who had been in China, Europe’s Schengen area, the UK or Ireland within the past 14 days were outright banned from entering the US.
You can read more about Trump’s travel restrictions here.
Trump claimed governors are receiving “everything they need” from the federal government and that “tremendous amounts” of critical medical supplies are available for states that need them.
“The governors are working very, very hard and we are supporting them 100%, everything they need they get, and we are taking good care,” Trump said. “We have tremendous supplies and a great supply chain. Whether its ventilators or gowns or just about anything they need.”
Facts First: Trump is overselling the federal pandemic response. Some governors have what they need, but others have said the Trump administration is falling short. And even though he says “tremendous supplies” are available, some hospitals and health care workers still don’t have enough protective gear, and experts say Trump’s slow decision-making is partially to blame.
The country is in better shape than a few months ago, but there are still reports of equipment shortages. Some frontline health care workers are still rationing their personal protective gear.
CNN previously reported the Trump administration has not fully utilized the Defense Production Act to spur manufacturing of critical supplies like masks, gowns and gloves. Some efforts are underway, but experts say it’s not enough and that the law was invoked far too late. Because of that, smaller physicians’ offices and assisted-living facilities are currently facing shortages.
Regarding the governors, Trump is exaggerating.
CNN reached out to governors’ offices across the country earlier this month, after Trump made a similar claim about governors having everything they needed. Democratic governors from Washington state, Colorado, Michigan and Illinois said they needed more supplies from the federal government. One Republican governor told CNN that Trump’s comment was accurate.
Trump is a repeat offender on this front. He also said in April that governors were satisfied with the supplies they received, even as governors from both parties said they faced shortages of medical equipment.
The President has previously bragged that the US has the lowest coronavirus mortality rate worldwide. During Tuesday’s press conference, he was less definitive.
“Our case fatality rate has continued to decline and is lower than the European Union and almost everywhere else in the world,” Trump said.
He later added: “We have done much better than most and with the fatality rate at a lower rate than most.”
Facts First: By several measures, the US coronavirus fatality rate is one of the highest worldwide.
While the observed case-fatality ratio has decreased since earlier this month, as of Tuesday morning the US fatality rate of 3.7% was lower than only nine of the 20 countries most affected by covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins. In terms of coronavirus deaths per capita, the US ranked third.
When Trump claimed the US case fatality rate was “lower than the European Union and almost everywhere else in the world,” two monitors behind him displayed charts to that effect.
Facts First: These charts are misleading. Countries have been cherry-picked to make it seem as if the US has the lowest case fatality rate worldwide, but it doesn’t. More specifically, of the over 200 countries the European CDC provides data for, more than half have case fatality rates lower than the United States as of Trump’s briefing. In this instance, the case fatality rate is calculated by dividing the sum of the country’s coronavirus deaths by the sum of its cases.
The regional graph is more accurate than the country-based one but still omits relevant context. According to the ECDC data, the total coronavirus deaths for countries in the European Union divided by those countries’ cumulative coronavirus cases is in fact higher than that of the United States. However, the case fatality rates for all African and Asian countries as defined by the European CDC are both lower than the United States’.
Another factor to consider when comparing coronavirus deaths across countries is the timeline. Initially, deaths spiked as countries struggled to respond to the virus and adequately protect the elderly and others at high risk. As a result, a country that was hit hard but contained the virus relatively quickly might have a higher case fatality rate than a country where cases are still increasing.
In the latter situation, such as the US, the fatality rate is likely to decline if the number of cases are increasing but the number of deaths is not increasing at the same rate. That’s potentially the case in the US, as the New York Times found that deaths are not spiking along with the recent coronavirus surges across the southern United States, possibly due to fewer infections in nursing homes, which account for more than 40% of all coronavirus deaths in the US.
This story has been updated.