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‘This is COVID-19, not COVID-1, folks’: Kellyanne Conway mistakenly suggests name of virus means multiple versions

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talked to reporters about the coronavirus at the White House on Wednesday.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talked to reporters about the coronavirus at the White House on Wednesday.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

In an appearance on Fox News Wednesday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway falsely suggested the illness caused by the novel coronavirus is called COVID-19 because it is the 19th iteration of the disease.

Conway was asked on “Fox & Friends” about the president’s decision Tuesday to halt funding to the World Health Organization after he criticized the group for not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus when it first surfaced in China.

“Some of the scientists and doctors say that there could be other strains later on, that this could come back in the fall in a limited way. This is COVID-19, not COVID-1, folks," Conway said. “You would think that people charged with the World Health Organization facts and figures would be on top of that.”

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The virus’ name is short for "coronavirus disease 2019,” which signals the year it was identified, the WHO said in a Feb. 11 report.

Conway later said on Twitter she was aware of the origin of the name “COVID-19” and also retweeted a reporter who described her argument as rhetorical.

The Fox & Friends appearance was part of a series of interviews on Wednesday in which Conway spoke in support of Trump’s decision to withhold funding for the WHO.

“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at Tuesday’s White House coronavirus briefing. He said the US would be reviewing the WHO’s actions to stop the virus before making a decision on resuming aid.

Conway also appeared on Fox Business Network Wednesday and acknowledged that COVID-19 in part refers to the year the virus was identified, telling host Maria Bartiromo “it’s called COVID-19 because that’s the year, it’s not COVID-20, it’s COVID-19, and yet it took the WHO until March to call it a global pandemic.”

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The conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh made a similar suggestion on air in late February when he said COVID-19 represents the 19th version of the virus.

“I said yesterday there are numerous types of coronavirus," Limbaugh said on Feb. 25, the same day he asserted the flu has a higher fatality rate than the virus, according to the Washington Post. “This is coronavirus 19. Now, the official name of it is COVID-19.”


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.