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Fact checking President Trump’s claims during his Fox News town hall

President Trump.
President Trump.AFP via Getty Images

President Trump on Tuesday appeared on a Fox News virtual town hall from the White House to make his case for reopening the economy despite the escalating coronavirus crisis, a move that runs contrary to the advice of public health experts. Over the course of the interview, Trump made claims that don’t square with the facts. Here’s a closer look at several of them:

Trump can’t unilaterally ‘reopen’ the economy — state and local governments have imposed most of the restrictions.

Trump said repeatedly on Tuesday he wants to “open this country up," but there’s an important caveat: He can’t do it on his own.

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Though he’s taken drastic measures to restrict travel from Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, Trump has not implemented a nationwide lockdown nor ordered specific businesses to close. Rather, Trump’s CDC has issued a set of guidelines that call for Americans to voluntarily practice social distancing and stay home for a period of 15 days. Governors across the country have instead stepped in to force the closure of businesses and schools. Trump lifting federal guidelines would not necessarily change those state-level restrictions.

Trump said he first knew he had to ‘move’ on the coronavirus outbreak in January, but he spent weeks downplaying the threat.

Asked when it first hit home for him that he had to “move” on the coronavirus response, Trump gave a lengthy spiel about his administration’s decision in late January to restrict non-citizens who had traveled to China from entering the United States. His response ignores the fact that Trump spent weeks downplaying the threat to the United States, claiming even as evidence of community spread appeared on the West Coast in late February that the outbreak was "under control.”

As critics questioned whether the federal government was prepared for the pandemic, Trump also branded it the Democrats’ “new hoax.”

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Trump argued we don’t shut the country down because of the flu, but he didn’t mention that the coronavirus is much more deadly than the flu.

“But we lose thousands of people a year to the flu,” Trump said Tuesday. “We never turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies and say, 'Stop making cars, we don’t want any cars anymore.’”

Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top public health official, has urged Americans not to compare the current coronavirus pandemic to the flu.

“I mean, people always say, well, the flu does this, the flu does that,” Fauci said during a Congressional hearing earlier this month. “The flu has a mortality of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this."

Trump claimed that the mortality rate of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was as high as 50 percent, but it was much lower.

“You can’t compare this to 1918, where close to 100 million people died. . . . That was a flu where if you got it, you had a 50/50 chance, or very close, of dying,” Trump said during Tuesday’s town hall.

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed around 50 million people globally had a mortality rate of about 2.5 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health. Estimates on the mortality rate of the novel coronavirus outbreak vary, but experts estimate that the death rate of the novel coronavirus could be about 1 percent.

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That means while it’s true the coronavirus could be less deadly than the 1918 pandemic, it’s not a paper tiger as Trump suggested, and, as Fauci said, it’s about ten times more deadly than the seasonal flu.




Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.