At his coronavirus briefing Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump began by touting a deal to turn Kodak into a pharmaceutical company to manufacture ingredients for generic drugs. He then read off a litany of facts and figures detailing his administration’s efforts to manufacture items like gloves and masks and ventilators to deal with the pandemic.
As is often the case with these briefings, however, Trump’s scripted message eventually devolved into a series of false and misleading claims about the state of the pandemic. At one point, Trump claimed that “large portions” of the US are “corona free” (not true). He also claimed that protests in Seattle and Portland were leading to spiking cases there (also not true).
Trump again touted what he claims are the benefits of hydroxychloroquine as a successful drug to fight the coronavirus, despite numerous studies that fail to bear that out. Despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, Trump even claimed that the drug was completely safe to use.
“It’s safe. It doesn’t cause problems,” Trump said, anecdotally noting that he “had absolutely no problem” when he took the drug earlier this year. “Felt no different. Didn’t feel good, bad or indifferent.”
Facts First: The FDA has said there are many safety issues with using hydroxychloroquine against the coronavirus, including kidney injury, heart rhythm problems, liver problems, and more.
In a July 1 update of the review of safety issues for treating Covid-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, the FDA notes many health problems that may occur, including “serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.”
The FDA also revoked on June 15 the drug’s emergency use authorization – which initially allowed the drug to be used against the coronavirus – for certain patients because studies showed that “suggested dosing for these medicines are unlikely to kill or inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19.”
For a more complete fact check of past comments Trump has made about hydroxychloroquine, click here.
Downplaying the spread of the virus
Trump tried to paint a rosy picture of how well the country is responding to the coronavirus by downplaying its spread and saying that the virus has been eliminated in large parts of the country.
“We’re seeing improvements across major metro areas, and most hotspots, you can look at large portions of our country, it’s corona-free. But we are watching very carefully California, Arizona, Texas and most of Florida, it’s starting to head down in the right direction. And I think you’ll see it rapidly head down very soon.”
Facts First: This is misleading. No areas of the country have eliminated the virus, and the only places that are “corona-free” have no human population, or are rural areas that have an extremely small population.
Every state in the US has reported new Covid-19 cases in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 13 states saw their highest 7-day averages for new daily cases yesterday, per data from Johns Hopkins University.
The President didn’t clarify what “large portions” of the country he was talking about, but CNN’s tracker of Covid-19 cases shows that the virus is not slowing down nationally, and the number of cases in the United States is currently on track to double every month. Moreover, one model frequently cited by the White House predicts 200,000 US deaths from coronavirus by October 1.
Three-day average data from Johns Hopkins University shows that 30 states are experiencing an upward trend in new cases, with 20 states having a flat, or downward trend, though many experiencing a downward trend have just recently come off their peak number of new cases. No state is corona-free.
There is some truth to the President’s claim that some states are heading in the right direction, and in the past week several of the states he’s mentioned have begun to flatten the curve of new cases, but they’re still exponentially higher than where they were two months ago and show no signs of “rapidly head down very soon.”
Florida’s seven-day daily average of cases is currently at 10,530 cases, for example, according to Johns Hopkins University; a slight improvement from two weeks ago when it surpassed 11,800 daily cases on average, but that is still more than 1700% higher than the average number of daily cases it had in May.
Trump touted his administration’s work serving tribal communities by noting that “under the CARES Act we provided $8 billion” to tribal communities who are “very vulnerable to this horrible plague.” He also claimed it is the “largest investment in Indian country in US history. There has never been an investment that big in Indian country.”
Facts First: It’s not true that the Trump administration has provided $8 billion to tribal communities. While the CARES Act did allocate $8 billion in funding to tribal communities, only 60 percent of it has actually been disbursed so far, and that only happened after a lawsuit was filed against the Trump administration to release the money. It’s unclear if and when the rest will be released.
Though the CARES Act did provide $8 billion in funding to tribal communities, the Treasury Department missed the deadline imposed by Congress to distribute the money within 30 days of the bill’s passage.
After tribal communities sued the Trump administration over the delay, and sued the administration over which tribal communities qualify for the aid, the Treasury Department released only 60% of that aid or $4.8 billion, to tribal communities. The Treasury Department will release the remaining aid based on employment and expenditures data of tribes and tribally owned entities.
Protests in Portland and Seattle
As protests in Portland, Oregon, continued into July, Trump dispatched federal law enforcement to curtail any violence. After those officers arrested several protesters last week, tensions escalated.
Protests also erupted in Seattle, against the actions of the federal officers in Portland, resulting in additional arrests.
Trump claimed that coronavirus cases in both cities have increased as a result of these recent protests.
“In the wake of the recent mass gathering Americans have witnessed in the streets of Portland and Seattle, we are also tracking a significant rise in cases in both metropolitan areas because of what’s been going on,” Trump said.
Facts First: There is no evidence to back up the President’s claim here. While protests in both Portland and Seattle have been ongoing since shortly after the death of George Floyd, it’s too soon to tell whether the recent clashes over the presence of federal law enforcement officers have impacted either city’s coronavirus case rate, given it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after potential exposure.
Although Seattle’s King County is experiencing an upward trend in coronavirus cases recently, other counties in Washington have been worse in terms of weekly cases per capita, according to a New York Times analysis of local and state data. Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland, is also experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases but local outlets report most new cases are not linked to the protests.
The Oregon Health Authority found that earlier waves of Black Lives Matter protests in May and June did not contribute significantly to spikes in the state’s coronavirus cases. The situation was similar in Seattle, with health investigators tracing less than 5% of the more than one thousand positive cases in one Washington county back to protesters.
Seattle and Portland are not unique in this regard. Several other cities which experienced large and repeated demonstrations, including New York City, Minneapolis and Chicago, did not see spikes in confirmed cases in the weeks following the protests. A study published at the end of June by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no evidence that protests in more than 300 of the largest US cities contributed to a rise in coronavirus cases in the weeks following the protests.
Despite these gatherings of sometimes large amounts of people, the protests have had a limited impact on coronavirus cases so far, possibly in part because the protests took place outdoors, where the virus is transmitted less efficiently than in indoor spaces; possibly in part because a significant percentage of protesters wore masks; and possibly because some non-protesters may have reduced their in-person interaction as they tried to avoid the protests.