President Donald Trump has been comprehensively misinforming the public about the coronavirus.
Trump has littered his public remarks on the life-and-death subject with false, misleading and dubious claims. And he has been joined, on occasion, by senior members of his administration.
We’ve counted 28 different ways the President and his team have been inaccurate. Here is a chronological list, which may be updated as additional misinformation comes to our attention.
February 10: Trump says without evidence that the coronavirus “dies with the hotter weather”
Trump said on Fox Business: “You know in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather.” He told state governors: “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.” And he said at a campaign rally: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.”
Facts First: Experts were not saying this. They were saying, rather, that it was too soon to know how the coronavirus would respond to changing weather. “It would be reckless to assume that things will quiet down in spring and summer,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, told CNN. “We don’t really understand the basis of seasonality, and of course we know we absolutely nothing about this particular virus.” You can read a longer analysis here.
February 24: Trump baselessly claims the situation is “under control”
Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”
Facts First: “Under control” is subjective, but by any reasonable definition, the coronavirus was not under control in the US – and there was no way for the government to fully understand how dire the problem was given how few Americans were being tested. There were 53 confirmed cases and no deaths on the day of Trump’s tweet; as of March 11, there were more than 1,000 cases and 31 deaths.
February 25: A senior White House official falsely claims the virus has been “contained”
White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said, “We have contained this, I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight.” Kudlow said again on March 6 that the coronavirus “is contained” in the US. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway made similar though less definitive comments the same day, saying the virus “is being contained.”
Facts First: Experts said the US has not come close to containing the coronavirus. They also said the small number of tests conducted in the United States had prevented the government from getting an accurate picture of how widespread the virus truly is.
“In the US it is the opposite of contained,” said Harvard University epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It is spreading so efficiently in so many places that it may be difficult to stop.”
February 25: Trump falsely claims Ebola mortality was “a virtual 100%”
In comments to journalists on both February 25 and February 26, Trump contrasted the fatality rate for the coronavirus with the fatality rate for the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016, saying “in the other case (Ebola), it was a virtual 100%” and that “with Ebola – we were talking about it before – you disintegrated. If you got Ebola, that was it.”
Facts First: While the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016 certainly had a much higher death rate than the coronavirus, the Ebola rate was never “virtually 100%”; for the entire epidemic, it was about 40% overall in the three African countries at the center of the situation. It was higher in the early stages of the outbreak, but it was never true that every infected person “disintegrated.”
There were 28,616 “suspected, probable, and confirmed cases” and 11,310 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of mid-September 2014, World Health Organization (WHO) researchers reported that there was an estimated fatality rate of 70.8%. But the rate “fell later in the epidemic with lessons learned in improving treatment,” said Julie Fischer, associate research professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University and director of the Elizabeth R. Griffin Program. Still, even at 70.8%, death was never guaranteed for infected people, as Trump suggested.
“It was never 100%. That is just patently untrue,” Fischer said.
February 25: Trump falsely claims “nobody had ever even heard of Ebola” in 2014
Comparing the coronavirus outbreak with the Ebola situation of 2014, Trump said, “At that time, nobody had ever even heard of Ebola.”
Facts First: Some Americans certainly didn’t know a whole lot about Ebola before 2014, but the claims that “nobody” had ever even heard of Ebola and that “nobody” knew anything about it are absurd. Ebola was discovered in 1976. It had been the subject of considerable media coverage in the next three decades, not to mention scientific study.
February 26: Trump wrongly says the coronavirus “is a flu”
Trump, contrasting the coronavirus with Ebola, said: “This is a flu. This is like a flu.”
Facts First: While Trump may have simply meant that the coronavirus has a fatality rate more like the flu than like Ebola, experts have emphasized that the coronavirus is, simply, not the flu. They are different viruses with different characteristics, though they share symptoms, and the coronavirus has a higher mortality rate.
Experts say the mortality rate for the coronavirus is much higher than the approximately 0.1% rate for the seasonal flu, though the exact rate for the coronavirus is not yet known. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress on March 11 that it is “10 times” that of the flu’s 0.1%.
As World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said March 3, the coronavirus “causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.”
Also, the behavior of the flu over the course of a year is pretty well-understood, while the behavior of the coronavirus over time is not yet known. And while there are flu vaccines available, there is no vaccine available for the coronavirus (and no proven treatment).
February 26: Trump baselessly predicts the number of US cases is “going very substantially down” to “close to zero”
Trump said: “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.” And he 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.”
Facts First: Clearly, the number of US cases and deaths was going up, not down. As the New York Times noted in its own fact check, both Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said at the same press conference that they expected “more cases.”
There were 60 total cases in the US on the day Trump spoke here. The “15 people” referred to the cases that did not involve people who had been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship or who had been repatriated from China.
February 26: Trump wrongly says the flu death rate is “much higher” than Dr. Sanjay Gupta said
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent, told Trump, “Mr. President, you talked about the flu and then in comparison to the coronavirus. The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1%.” Trump said, “Correct.” But Trump later disputed the figure, saying, “And the flu is higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.” – February 26 coronavirus press conference
Facts First: Gupta was right, Trump was wrong. Even if Trump meant that the flu has a “much higher” fatality rate than 0.1% – rather than meaning that the flu’s mortality rate is “much higher” than that of the novel coronavirus – he was wrong, according to Fauci, other experts and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
February 27: Trump baselessly hints at a “miracle”
Trump said: “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. The fact is, the greatest experts – I’ve spoken to them all. Nobody really knows.” He made similar comments later in the outbreak, saying on March 10, “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Facts First: There was no apparent basis for Trump’s claim that the virus will miraculously “disappear.” (He did immediately soften the claim by saying “nobody really knows,” but still.)
February 28: Trump baselessly hints at an immigration link to the virus
Trump said: “The Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans. Now you see it with the coronavirus, you see it. You see it with the coronavirus.”
Facts First: Prominent Democrats do not support “open borders,” literally unrestricted migration. Aside from that, though, there was no evidence from the coronavirus situation that Democrats’ preferred immigration policies would be harmful to Americans’ health. There was no known US case in which someone brought the virus to the US while immigrating or making an asylum claim.
February 29: Trump exaggerates Tim Cook’s comments about Apple and China
Trump said: “And if you read, Tim Cook of Apple said that they are now in full operation again in China.” Trump also said: “You probably saw that – as I mentioned, Tim just came out and he said Apple is back to normal in terms of production in their facilities in China. They’ve made a lot of progress.”
Facts First: Trump was overstating what Cook told Fox Business. Cook had not said Apple’s production in China was “back to normal” or that plants in China were in “full operation.” Rather, he said that plants in China were “getting back to normal.”
“When you look at the parts that are done in China, we have reopened factories, so the factories were able to work through the conditions to reopen. They’re reopening. They’re also in ramp, and so I think of this as sort of the third phase of getting back to normal. And we’re in phase three of the ramp mode,” Cook said.
March 1: Azar wrongly says 3,600 people have been tested
Azar said: “In terms of testing kits, we’ve already tested over 3,600 people for the virus.”
Facts First: Politico reported: “Two days later, CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told the Senate health committee that her agency had tested more than 3,000 specimens taken from roughly 500 people — a fraction of what Azar claimed.” Politico reported that a Health and Human Services spokesperson explained that Azar had meant to say that the CDC had processed more than 3,600 tests, not that it had tested more than 3,600 people.
March 2: Trump falsely claims “nobody knew” the number of US flu deaths
Trump said: “You know, three, four weeks ago, I said, ‘Well, how many people die a year from the flu?’ And, in this country, I think last year was 36- or 37,000 people. And I’m saying, ‘Wow, nobody knew that information.’” He said at a campaign rally: “So when you lose 27,000 people a year, nobody knew that. I didn’t know that.”
Facts First: Trump might not have known the number of annual flu deaths in the US, but that doesn’t mean “nobody” else did. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes annual estimates on its website.
The CDC estimates that between 12,000 and 61,000 people have died in the US in each flu season between 2010-2011 and 2018-2019; its preliminary figure for 2018-2019 is 34,157 deaths.
March 2: Trump says a vaccine is coming “relatively soon”
Trump said: “We had a great meeting today with a lot of the great companies and they’re going to have vaccines, I think relatively soon. And they’re going to have something that makes you better and that’s going to actually take place, we think, even sooner.”
Facts First: “Relatively soon” is too vague a phrase to call this claim false, but Trump did not mention that Fauci had told him earlier that day that a vaccine was “a year to a year and a half” away. Fauci similarly told the Senate the next day that the process of getting a vaccine ready to deploy “will take at least a year and a year and a half.”
March 4: Trump falsely claims Obama impeded testing
Trump claimed he had reversed a decision by President Barack Obama’s administration that had impeded testing for the coronavirus, saying that “the Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing. And we undid that decision a few days ago so that the testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion. That was a decision we disagreed with.” He said on March 5: “They made some decisions which were not good decisions…We undid some of the regulations that were made that made it very difficult, but I’m not blaming anybody.”
Facts First: There is no Obama-era decision or rule that impeded coronavirus testing. The Obama administration did put forward a draft proposal related to lab testing, but it was never implemented.
When asked what Obama administration decision Trump might be referring to, Peter Kyriacopolous, chief policy officer at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said: “We aren’t sure what rule is being referenced.”
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who was principal deputy commissioner of the FDA under Obama and is now professor of the practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, “There wasn’t a policy that was put into place that inhibited them. There was no Obama policy they were reversing.”
March 4: Trump wrongly says as many as 100,000 people died of the flu in 1990
Speaking about deaths from the flu, Trump said on March 4: “I think we went as high as 100,000 people died in 1990, if you can believe that.” He said on March 6 that as many as 77,000 people might die in a given year, then added: “And I guess they said, in 1990, that was in particular very bad; it was higher than that.”
Facts First: While the 1989-1990 flu season was considered bad at the time – the CDC declared that it was an epidemic – Trump greatly overstated the number of deaths. A CDC analysis in 2010 estimated that there were 26,582 deaths from the seasonal flu in 1989-1990. (The same analysis found that this number of deaths was exceeded in nine of the 17 subsequent flu seasons through 2006-2007.)
March 4: Trump says “the borders are automatically shut down”
Trump said during a meeting with airline chief executives: “And we’re talking about the effects of the virus on air travel and what they see. In a certain way, you could say that the borders are automatically shut down, without having to say ‘shut down.’ I mean, they’re, to a certain extent, automatically shut down.”
Facts First: Trump did not explain what he meant by “the borders are automatically shut down.” Trump’s travel restrictions on China do not constitute a complete border closure even on China in particular.
Trump’s China policy prohibits entry into the US by non-Americans who have been in China within 14 days – but it makes exceptions for immediate family members of American citizens and permanent residents. And American citizens themselves are free to go back and forth.
Returning citizens who have been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days are subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, while citizens who have been in the rest of mainland China in the previous 14 days “will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. Still, this is not a shutdown.
March 4: Trump says he believes there was a coronavirus death in New York, though there hadn’t been one
Trump said: “And then, when you do have a death, like you have had in the state of Washington, like you had one in California – I believe you had one in New York…”
Facts First: There had not been any New York deaths attributed to the coronavirus at the time. (There still had not been any as of the morning of March 11, seven days later.)
March 4: Trump falsely claims the Obama administration “didn’t do anything” about H1N1
Trump said of H1N1, also known as swine flu: “And they didn’t do anything about it.”
Facts First: The Obama administration did respond to H1N1. On April 26, 2009, less than two weeks after the first US cases of H1N1 were confirmed, the Obama administration declared a public health emergency. Two days later, the Obama administration made an initial $1.5 billion funding request to Congress. (Congress ultimately allocated $7.7 billion). In October 2009, Obama declared a national emergency to allow hospitals more flexibility for a possible flood of H1N1 patients.
The Obama administration did face criticism over the pace of the government’s vaccination effort, but “they didn’t do anything” is clearly false.
March 5: Trump misleadingly describes a Gallup poll
Trump tweeted: “Gallup just gave us the highest rating ever for the way we are handling the CoronaVirus situation.” Pointing to the Gallup poll again at a Fox News town hall the same day, he said the administration got “tremendous marks” in the poll “for the way we’ve handled it.”
Facts First: The Gallup poll was positive for Trump, as 77% percent of respondents did say they had confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle a coronavirus outbreak. But it was not a poll about how the administration had handled the situation: the poll asked about confidence in the federal government’s future acts, not about its actual work to date. Critically, it was conducted from February 3-16, when there were far fewer reported cases and reported US deaths; Trump was still, at minimum, 10 days away from appointing Vice President Mike Pence as his point man on the response.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted March 5-8 found that 43% of registered voters approved of the way Trump was handling the coronavirus response, 49% disapproved. When the poll asked about confidence in “the federal government” to handle the response, 53% said they had confidence, 43% said they didn’t.
March 5: Trump wrongly claims the virus only hit the US “three weeks ago”
Trump said, “We got hit with the virus really three weeks ago, if you think about it, I guess. That’s when we first started really to see some possible effects.”
Facts First: The US had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus on January 21, more than six weeks before Trump spoke here.
March 6: Azar wrongly claims there is no test shortage
Azar said: “There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.”
Facts First: Vice President Mike Pence had said the day prior: “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.” Doctors, health authorities and elected officials in various locations around the country indeed said they did not have enough tests.
March 6: As the number of cases and deaths in Italy rises, Trump says the number is “getting much better”
Trump said: “…I hear the numbers are getting much better in Italy.”
Facts First: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Italy was continuing to increase at the time Trump made this comment. As of Saturday, March 7, the day after Trump spoke here, Italy had 5,883 confirmed cases and 233 deaths; as of Monday, March 9, there were 9,172 cases and 463 deaths. (The Italian government announced a national lockdown on Monday.)
March 6: Trump falsely claims anybody can get tested if they want
Trump said: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is.”
Facts First: That wasn’t true. There were an insufficient number of tests available, as Pence said the day prior, and Americans could not get tested simply because they wanted to get tested. “You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test,” Azar said the day after Trump’s remark. (Azar claimed Trump was using “shorthand” for the fact that “we as regulators, or as those shipping the test, are not restricting who can get tested.”)
March 6: Trump exaggerates the number of people on the Grand Princess cruise ship
Trump said, of the Grand Princess cruise ship being kept in limbo over coronavirus concerns, “We do have a situation where we have this massive ship with 5,000 people and we have to make a decision.” He later amended the claim slightly, “It’s close to 5,000 people.”
Facts First: Trump was overstating the numbers. There were 3,533 people aboard the Grand Princess: 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew members.
March 6: Trump falsely says US coronavirus numbers “are lower than just about anybody”
Trump said that “we have very low numbers compared to major countries throughout the world. Our numbers “are lower than just about anybody.”
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. The US did have fewer confirmed coronavirus cases than some countries, including China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France and Germany. But it had more confirmed cases than big-population countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Russia and Nigeria, plus neighbors Mexico and Canada, plus many other high-income countries.
In addition, the number of confirmed cases is dependent on how many people are tested. The US was conducting fewer tests than some countries with much smaller populations.
March 6: Trump baselessly muses that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US jobs numbers
Trump touted the jobs report for February, which showed a gain of 273,000 jobs. He then said that, instead of traveling abroad, “I think, you know, a lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here.” He continued, “And maybe that’s one of the reasons the job numbers are so good. We’ve had a lot of travel inside the USA.”
Facts First: We can’t definitively call this false, but there’s no evidence to back it up. Reports suggest the domestic travel industry is also being hurt by the coronavirus.
In March, US airlines announced they were reducing domestic flights as well as international flights in March, and companies called off US conferences and limiting corporate travel. While industry experts said some particular domestic travel destinations could possibly benefit if the virus causes travelers to opt for local trips rather than international trips, there is no hard evidence for that yet.
March 9: Pence says Trump’s “priority” was getting Americans off the ship
Vice President Mike Pence said “the President made the priority to get – to get the Americans ashore.”
Facts First: Trump may have eventually been convinced to get the Americans ashore, but he had said three days prior to this Pence claim that he wanted passengers to stay on the ship so that “the numbers” of US coronavirus cases would stay low.
“I have great experts, including our Vice President, who is working 24 hours a day on this stuff. They would like to have the people come off. I’d rather have the people stay, but I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision. I would rather – because I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship,” Trump said on March 6. “That wasn’t our fault, and it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship, either. OK? It wasn’t their fault either. And they’re mostly Americans, so I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally. But I fully understand if they want to take them off. I gave them the authority to make the decision.”