fb-pixelFact check: Trump falsely says 99 percent of coronavirus cases are ‘harmless' - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Fact check: Trump falsely says 99 percent of coronavirus cases are ‘harmless'

President TrumpChris Kleponis/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is understating the danger of the coronavirus to people who get it, as more and more become infected in the U.S.

In his latest of many statements playing down the severity of the pandemic, Trump declared that 99% of cases of COVID-19 are harmless. That flies in the face of science and of the reality captured by the U.S. death toll of about 130,000. Trump also sounded a dismissive note about the need for breathing machines.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump has declared it under control in the U.S. when it hasn't been. His remarks on that subject and more from the past week:



TRUMP: “Now we have tested over 40 million people. But by so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless.” — Fourth of July remarks Saturday.

THE FACTS: This statement does not reflect the suffering of millions of COVID-19 patients.

The World Health Organization, for one, has said about 20% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 progress to severe disease, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. Whatever the numbers turn out to be, it's clear that the threat is not limited to the merest sliver of those who get the disease.

Aside from that, those with mild or no symptoms also can spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable.

Asked Sunday to defend Trump's claim, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn declined to do so. He instead urged Americans not to back off the federal government's public health measures urging social distancing and wearing a mask.

“What I’ll say is that we have data in the White House task force," Hahn told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Those data show us that this is a serious problem. People need to take it seriously.”


TRUMP: “Our tremendous Testing success gives the Fake News Media all they want, CASES. In the meantime, Deaths and the all important Mortality Rate goes down. ... Anybody need any Ventilators???” — tweet Saturday.


THE FACTS: No, increased testing does not fully account for the rise in cases. People are also infecting each other more than before as distancing rules recede and “community spread” picks up. And as cases surge, so has demand for ventilators once again in parts of the U.S.

“One of the things is an increase in community spread, and that’s something that I’m really quite concerned about,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, testified Tuesday.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services official overseeing the nation’s coronavirus testing efforts, told Congress on Thursday that the increases can't be explained by just additional testing. "We do believe this is a real increase in cases because of the percent positivities are going up,” he said.

In areas of the U.S., the demand for ventilators is approaching the highs seen in April. For instance, the number of patients requiring ventilators in Miami-Dade County has increased from 61 two weeks ago to 158 on Saturday, according to Miami-Dade figures posted by the county online. The highest number of patients on ventilators was 198, on April 9.

As for Trump’s point about mortality coming down, Fauci said that is not a relevant measure of what is happening in the moment with infections. “Deaths always lag considerably behind cases,” he said. “It is conceivable you may see the deaths going up.”



TRUMP: “We’ve made a lot of progress; our strategy is moving along well. ...We’ve learned how to put out the flame.” — Fourth of July remarks Saturday.

TRUMP, describing the COVID-19 threat as “getting under control”: “Some (places) were doing very well, and we thought they (the virus) may be gone and they flare up, and we’re putting out the fires.” — remarks Thursday on a jobs report.

TRUMP: “I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.” — interview Wednesday on Fox Business Network.

THE FACTS: “The virus is not going to disappear," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert. Nor can it be considered “under control” and its flame “put out” as cases have been surging to fresh daily highs.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has roughly doubled over the past month, hitting over 50,000 this past week, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is higher even than what the country experienced from mid-April through early May, when deaths sharply rose.

Fauci warned last week that the increase across the South and West “puts the entire country at risk” and that new infections could reach 100,000 a day if people don’t start listening to guidance from public health authorities to wear a mask and practice social distancing.


Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have recently been forced to shut down bars and businesses as virus cases surge. The U.S. currently has more than 2.7 million known cases and many more undetected.

Fauci has said there “certainly” will be coronavirus infections in the fall and winter.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “While we’re monitoring about 16 states that are seeing outbreaks, it represents about 4% of all the counties in this country.” — interview with CBS aired on June 28.

THE FACTS: That’s a misleading portrayal of the virus threat. More than 20% of Americans actually live in those relatively few counties.

The White House provided The Associated Press with the full list of U.S. counties that reported increases in COVID-19 cases as of a week ago, when Pence and other administration officials repeatedly cited the low county tally. The list showed 137 of the 3,142 counties in the U.S. that were under a higher alert — indeed, about 4% in that snapshot of time.

But measured by population, those counties represent a vastly higher share — more than 1 in 5 people in the U.S.

Altogether there are 68.3 million people living in those 137 counties, while there is a total U.S. population of 322.9 million. That means 21.1% of U.S. residents actually live in the virus “hot spots" identified in the list.



TRUMP: “Biden was asked questions at his so-called Press Conference yesterday where he read the answers from a teleprompter. That means he was given the questions.” — tweet Wednesday.


THE FACTS: Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic presidential rival, did not read answers off a teleprompter. Nor did the AP, which asked the first question at the briefing, submit questions in advance.

Biden used a teleprompter to read prepared remarks that took aim at Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, before the questions and answers started, at which point the teleprompter appeared to have been turned off.

Biden's campaign gave him a list of news organizations to call on and he answered questions from reporters on that list as well as some he chose spontaneously. That’s not an uncommon practice when officials give news conferences.

Video footage shows that during nearly 30 minutes of questions and answers, Biden often looked directly at the reporter, not at the teleprompter. His answers were at times long-winded, without the practiced pauses typically heard in prepared speeches.

Biden campaign national press secretary TJ Ducklo called Trump’s allegation “laughable, ludicrous and a lie.”

Trump’s accusation reflected his tactic of trying to stir doubts about Biden’s mental acuity.


TRUMP: “He wants to defund and abolish police.” — interview Wednesday on “America This Week.”

THE FACTS: Biden does not join the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after George Floyd’s killing.

“I don’t support defunding the police,“ Biden said last month in a CBS interview. But he said he would support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether “they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community.”

Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.

Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into existing federal community policing grant programs.

That adds up to more money for police, not defunding law enforcement.

Biden also wants the federal government to spend more on education, social services and struggling areas of cities and rural America, to address root causes of crime.



KAYLEIGH MCENANY, White House press secretary: “You have this President who, when Washington was unanimous in saying, ‘We’re going into Iraq,’ this President said, ‘No, that’s not the right decision.’” — news briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: That’s false. Trump voiced support for going into Iraq, as much as he and now his press secretary insist otherwise. And Washington was not unanimous in supporting the invasion.

On Sept. 11, 2002, when radio host Howard Stern asked Trump whether he supported a potential Iraq invasion, Trump said: “Yeah, I guess so."

On March 21, 2003, just days after the invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

Later that year, he began expressing reservations.

More than 150 members of Congress voted against the 2002 resolution to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq. That is not unanimity.



TRUMP: “We are tracking down the two Anarchists who threw paint on the magnificent George Washington Statue in Manhattan. ... They will be prosecuted and face 10 years in Prison.” — tweet Tuesday.

TRUMP: “Since imposing a very powerful 10 year prison sentence on those that Vandalize Monuments, Statues etc., with many people being arrested all over our Country, the Vandalism has completely stopped.” — tweet on June 28.

THE FACTS: Trump does not have the authority to impose prison sentences — a president is not a judge. Nor can he toughen penalties on his own.

Trump signed an executive order last week to protect monuments, memorials and statues, calling on the attorney general to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any person or group that destroys or vandalizes a monument, memorial or statue.

The order basically instructs the attorney general to enforce laws that already exist.


Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami, and Alexandra Jaffe, Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.