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Fact Check: A look at Trump’s statements on COVID-19 threat

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump appears to be living in an alternate reality when it comes to the COVID-19 threat.

Over the weekend, he clung to the misguided notion that the virus will just “disappear” even as his top science experts and GOP allies bluntly say otherwise.

Trump also continued to wrongly insist that anyone who wants a coronavirus test is getting one, made the head-scratching suggestion that the virus is under control when infections are surging to fresh daily highs and lodged false accusations against the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The statements came in a week of distorted truth. Trump referred repeatedly to his “ban” on travel from China that wasn’t so and issued a scattered indictment of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

A look at his rhetoric and how they compare with the facts:

TRUMP vs. FAUCI

TRUMP: “Dr. Fauci at the beginning said, ‘This will pass. Don’t worry about it. This will pass.’ He was wrong.” — interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.”

THE FACTS: Trump is overstating it. While Fauci said in January and February that Americans need not panic about a virus threat at the time, he also said the situation was “evolving” and that public health officials were taking the threat seriously.

“Right now the risk is still low, but this could change, I’ve said that many times,” Fauci told NBC on Feb. 29. He allowed that if there are growing cases of community spread, it could become a “major outbreak.”

“When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread,” Fauci said.

Fauci never claimed the virus would just “pass” or disappear.

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TRUMP: “Dr. Fauci told me not to ban China, it would be a big mistake. I did it over and above his recommendation.” — Fox interview.

THE FACTS: That’s incorrect. While Fauci expressed some initial reservations about travel restrictions on China, he supported the decision by the time it was made.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force at the time and announced the travel restrictions, said Trump made the decision in late January after accepting the “uniform recommendation of the career public health officials here at HHS.”

While the World Health Organization did advise against the overuse of travel restrictions, Azar told reporters in February that his department’s career health officials had made a “considered recommendation, which I and the president adopted” in a bid to slow spread of the virus.

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TRUMP: “I will be right eventually. You know I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again. It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right.” — Fox interview.

TRUMP: “We’ll put out the flames. … It’s going to be under control.” — Fox interview.

THE FACTS: “The virus is not going to disappear,” according to Fauci.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has risen over the past month, hitting over 70,000 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 has warned 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 3.7 million known cases and many more undetected.

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

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TRUMP: “Cases are up, because we have the best testing in the world and we have the most testing.” — Fox interview.

THE FACTS: It’s not true that infections are high only because the U.S. diagnostic testing has increased. Trump’s own top public health officials have shot down this line of thinking. Infections are rising because people are infecting each other more than they were when most everyone was hunkered down.

Increased testing does contribute to the higher numbers, but there’s more to it. Testing in fact has uncovered a worrisome trend: The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is on the rise across nearly the entire country.

That’s a clear demonstration that sickness is spreading and that the U.S. testing system is falling short.

“A high rate of positive tests indicates a government is only testing the sickest patients who seek out medical attention and is not casting a wide enough net,” says the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a primary source of updated information on the pandemic.

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DEATH RATES

TRUMP: “I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.” — Fox interview.

CHRIS WALLACE, host of “Fox News Sunday”: “That’s not true, sir.”

TRUMP: “Number one, low mortality rate.” — Fox interview.

THE FACTS: Trump’s claim is wholly unsupported.

An accurate death rate is impossible to know. Every country tests and counts people differently, and some are unreliable in reporting cases. Without knowing the true number of people who become infected, it cannot be determined what portion of them die.

Using a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, you can compare the number of recorded deaths with the number of reported cases. That count shows the U.S. experiencing more deaths as a percentage of cases than most other countries now being hit hard with the pandemic. The statistics look better for the U.S. when the list is expanded to include European countries that were slammed early on by the virus but now appear to have it under control. Even then, the U.S. is not shown to be among the best in avoiding death.

Such calculations, though, do not provide a reliable measurement of actual death rates because of the variations in testing and reporting, and the Johns Hopkins tally is not meant to be such a measure.

The only way to tell how many cases have gone uncounted, and therefore what percentage of infected people have died from the disease, is to do another kind of test comprehensively, of people’s blood, to find how many people bear immune system antibodies to the virus. Globally, that is only being done in select places.

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POLICE

TRUMP: “Biden wants to defund the police.” — Fox interview.

THE FACTS: To be clear, Biden has not joined the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. He’s proposed more money for police, conditioned to improvements in their practices.

“I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said last month in a CBS interview. But he said he would support tying 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.

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