WASHINGTON (AP) — “I believe we’re rounding the corner.” “We’re a winner on the excess mortality.” “We have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.” “We have done an amazing job.”
President Donald Trump sees in the pandemic what he wants to see. He seemed to acknowledge as much when he was challenged on stage a few days ago for repeatedly and thoroughly misrepresenting a study about masks.
No, the study did not find that most people who wear masks get COVID-19. Most people don’t. But, “that’s what I heard and that’s what I saw, and — regardless….”
Regard for the facts is not a hallmark of Trump’s campaign for the Nov. 3 election or of his presidency.
His assurance, heard for weeks, that the U.S. is rounding the corner on the coronavirus is belied by rising infection in the vast majority of states and higher deaths in 30 by week’s end, as well as by a surge in Europe. This as the flu season approaches, another layer of risk to health.
As for Trump’s claim that he’s done an amazing job on the pandemic, that’s part of a record in office that voters are judging now and until polls close for the Nov. 3 election. He and Democratic rival Joe Biden bid for late advantage in competing forums that replaced a canceled presidential debate.
Meantime, the Senate vetted Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for the Supreme Court with committee hearings that often seemed to put the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” on trial.
Some statements from the past week and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP, asked about the many attendees at a White House event who got sick with COVID-19: “Just the other day they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.” — NBC forum in Miami on Thursday.
NBC’S SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: “Well, they didn’t say that, I know that study.”
TRUMP: “Well that’s what I heard and that’s what I saw, and — regardless, but everybody’s tested and they’re tested often.”
THE FACTS: That was at least the third time the same day that he flatly misstated the findings of a federal study and the first time he was called out on it. The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not find that 85% of mask wearers catch COVID-19. If that were so, the majority of Americans would be infected.
It found something quite different: that 85% of a small group of COVID-19 patients surveyed reported they had worn a mask often or always around the time they would have become infected. Dining in restaurants, where masks are set aside for meals, was one activity suspected of spreading community infection. The study not declare masks ineffective.
Trump told a North Carolina rally earlier in the day: “Did you see CDC? That 85% of the people wearing a mask catch it, OK?” And to Fox Business News: ”CDC comes out with a statement that 85% of the people wearing masks catch it.”
TRUMP: “We’re a winner on the excess mortality.” — Miami forum.
THE FACTS: That marker of mass death is a problematic bragging point.
Excess mortality estimates take a look at how many more people are dying than usual. The estimates help to illustrate that the death toll attributed to COVID-19 understates how many are actually dying from the disease.
As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. during the first seven months of the year, suggesting that the number of lives lost to the coronavirus was significantly higher than the official toll, which was then about 150,000. More than half the dead in the excess mortality count were people of color, a higher proportion than their share of the population, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system.
Exactly how many of the abnormally high deaths were from the virus cannot be known, and international comparisons cannot be made with precision.
But the findings don’t make the U.S. a “winner.”
JOE BIDEN: “This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.” – remarks to reporters Monday.
BIDEN: “Why do Republicans have time to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court? … It’s about finally getting his [Trump’s] wish to wipe out the affordable health care act because their nominee has said in the past that the law should be struck down.” – to supporters in Ohio on Monday.
THE FACTS: No, Barrett has not said explicitly that she would strike down the health law. Biden may ultimately be right that if she joins the court, she would vote to eliminate the law, but there are also reasons to believe she might not.
Biden is alluding to a 2017 commentary Barrett wrote that included a critique of the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling upholding parts of the law. Barrett was a University of Notre Dame law professor at the time.
In her critique, she specifically took issue with Chief Justice John Roberts’ reasoning that the penalty attached to one part of the law — the mandate that everyone get health coverage — be considered a tax and therefore within the powers of Congress to enforce. She said he stretched the law “beyond its plausible meaning” to uphold it in the 5-4 vote.
That’s not necessarily the same as her wanting to trash the entire law. It’s difficult to take what a prospective jurist wrote about a complex law and use it to state as fact how she might rule years later when some circumstances have changed. But Biden and other Democrats didn’t hesitate to do so.
All that is certain is that Barrett criticized how her potential colleagues on the high court ruled on the law eight years ago.
FROM NORTH CAROLINA
TRUMP, reacting to news that several people associated with the Biden campaign on a recent flight with Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, had tested positive for COVID-19: “We extend our best wishes, which is more than they did to me, but that’s OK.” — North Carolina rally Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s false.
Hours after Trump’s early morning announcement on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive, both Biden and Harris sent their wishes for a quick recovery via Twitter.
“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Biden wrote. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
Harris tweeted a similar message “wishing President Trump and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery. We’re keeping them and the entire Trump family in our thoughts.”
The Biden campaign at the time also said it would stop running negative ads, with the candidate tweeting that “this cannot be a partisan moment” when Trump was going to a hospital for treatment of his coronavirus infection. Biden’s camp resumed the advertising after Trump was released.
GOP versus “OBAMACARE”
SEN. TED CRUZ: “’Obamacare’ has doubled the profits of the big health insurance companies, doubled them. ‘Obamacare’ has been great corporate welfare for giant health insurance companies at the same time, according to the Kaiser foundation, premiums — average families’ premiums — have risen more than — have risen $7,967 per year on average. That is catastrophic that millions of Americans can’t afford health care. It is a catastrophic failure of ‘Obamacare.’” — Barrett nomination hearing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No, family premiums for health insurance have not risen by $7,967 per year, as Cruz asserted. Nowhere close.
That figure comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation, but it captures the increase over 11 years — 2009 to 2020 — not per year, as the Republican senator from Texas put it. In addition, the figure applies to the cost of premiums for employer-provided coverage, not for “Obamacare” nor for health insurance overall.
Kaiser’s Larry Levitt said that the cost of employer coverage wasn’t much affected by the health law and that “the increase in premiums is largely due to changes in underlying health care costs over this period.”
The law’s premiums for a standard “silver” individual plan purchased by a hypothetical 40-year-old went up to $462 this year from an average of $273 a month nationally in 2014.
Levitt said there wasn’t a clear equivalent for a family premium in the health law’s marketplaces; what a family pays is the sum of each member’s individual premiums.
Cruz’s take on insurer profits also missed the mark. Some major insurers lost money for a time selling “Obamacare” coverage, and several companies exited the health law’s markets. The law actually has a provision that in effect limits insurer profits.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: “Under the Affordable Care Act, three states get 35% of the money, folks. Can you name them? I’ll help you, California, New York and Massachusetts. They’re 22% of the population. … Now, why did they get 35% of the money when they are only 22% of the population?” — Barrett confirmation hearing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The South Carolina senator’s suggestion that Democrats designed the health law to benefit Democratic states is misleading.
Big states with higher premiums and more enrollment in the health insurance marketplaces get more federal money. But that’s driven by differences in premiums among states and by the number of people who sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage.
Moreover, some states such as South Carolina get much less federal money under the health law because they chose not to expand Medicaid, for which the federal government picks up 90% of the cost.