Hope Yen, Calvin Woodward and Jonathan Lemire
WASHINGTON — Impatient to return to the campaign trail, President Donald Trump dubiously claimed he's fully recovered and immune from COVID-19, hailed a cure that isn't so and declared the coronavirus is "disappearing" even as cases spiked.
The comments over the weekend capped a week that featured the only vice presidential debate of 2020 and Trump's hurried approach to leaving his convalescence behind and getting on with the campaign for the Nov. 3 election.
With confirmation hearings beginning Monday for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, made an unsubstantiated claim that Abraham Lincoln would've waited until after the election to fill the vacancy if he were in Trump's shoes.
A look at the claims and reality:
TRUMP: "I'm immune ... It could be a lifetime." — interview Sunday on Fox News.
TRUMP: "A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday. That means I can't get it (immune), and can't give it." — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: That's far from certain, and Twitter later flagged his tweet with a fact-check warning.
Some medical experts have been skeptical that Trump could be declared free of the risk of transmitting the virus so early in the course of his illness. Nor can he be completely assured of immunity following his illness.
Trump was referring to a memo released Saturday by the White House in which Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley said Trump met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for safely discontinuing isolation and that by "currently recognized standards" he was no longer considered a transmission risk. The memo did not declare Trump had tested negative for the virus.
Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health, said the White House appeared to be following CDC guidelines for when it is appropriate to end isolation after mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
But Ko cautioned that those who have had severe cases of the diseases should isolate for 20 days, not just 10 days as Trump has done. He noted that Trump was treated with the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally reserved for patients with severe COVID-19.
Dr. Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the doctor's letter does not provide enough information to be confident that Trump can no longer infect others. He said Trump's use of steroids could prolong viral shedding so the CDC's 10-day standard may not be enough.
As to immunity, while there's evidence that reinfection is unlikely for at least three months even for those with a mild case of COVID-19, very few diseases leave people completely immune for life. Antibodies are only one piece of the body's defenses, and they naturally wane over time.
"Certainly it's presumptuous to say it's a lifetime," Ko said.
TRUMP, on the pandemic: "It's going to disappear; it is disappearing." — remarks Saturday.
THE FACTS: There is no sign the virus is "disappearing," or "rounding a corner" as he sometimes puts it, despite Trump's repeated assertions since first making the claim in February, over 214,000 deaths ago. And it's certainly not what his top health advisers say.
"I'm sorry but I have to disagree with that," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, said last month, when the U.S. was seeing 40,000 cases a day. The U.S. is now seeing over 57,000 new cases daily, with spikes in numerous states.
Trump made the claim as he and several of his aides seek to recover from the coronavirus following a potential superspreader event last month where Trump announced his nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court. More than two dozen people in attendance that day have since contracted the virus. Trump now plans to return to the campaign trail Monday, and officials have signaled Trump's intention to travel nearly every day for the rest of the campaign.
Fauci has cautioned that people should not underestimate the pandemic and they will "need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy." He and other health experts, such as Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC, have warned of a potentially bad fall because of dual threats of the coronavirus and the flu season.
TRUMP, on those who get COVID-19. "Now what happens is you get better. That's what happens, you get better." — to Fox Business on Thursday.
THE FACTS: As a blanket assurance, that is obviously false. Most people get better. But more than 1 million people worldwide have died from the disease, more than 214,000 of them in the U.S. The disease also may leave many people with long-term harm that is not fully understood.
Trump's doctor, Dr. Sean Conley, says Trump was showing no evidence of his illness progressing or adverse reactions to the aggressive course of therapy prescribed by his doctors. That doesn't mean he is over it.
TRUMP, on the experimental antibodies he was administered: "We have a cure. ... I can tell you, it's a cure and I'm talking to you today because of it." — speaking to Rush Limbaugh's radio show by phone Friday.
THE FACTS: We don't have a cure. His statement is premature at best and may raise false hope. And his present condition cannot be pinned on a particular medicine in the combination of drugs he has been given.
Antibody drugs like the one Trump was given are among the most promising therapies being tested for treating and preventing coronavirus infections. But the medicines are still in testing; their safety and effectiveness are not yet known.
Trump was among fewer than 10 people who were able to access the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals drug without having to enroll in a study. Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are both asking the U.S. government to allow emergency use of their antibody drugs, which aim to help the immune system clear the virus.
Trump has routinely made too much of promising developments in the pandemic and given weight to bogus theories about how to prevent and treat the disease while dismissing the importance of true preventives such as wearing a mask and staying away from groups of people.
TRUMP: "Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: He's contradicting science and himself.
First, he's overstating the U.S. death toll from the seasonal flu. The flu has killed 12,000 to 61,000 Americans annually since 2010, not 100,000, a benchmark rarely reached in U.S. history. More than 214,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
Second, health officials widely agree that the coronavirus seems to be at least several times more lethal than seasonal flu. At one point, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told Congress it could be as much as 10 times more lethal.
"There's absolutely no doubt, no doubt at all, that this COVID-19 ... is far more serious than a seasonal flu, no doubt about that," Fauci told MSNBC last week.
Trump's tweet also flies in the face of what he told author Bob Woodward in February, that the virus was even more deadly than "your strenuous flus," even while suggesting publicly that the pandemic was akin to the flu season. "This is deadly stuff," he told the author.
HARRIS, citing precedent for waiting to fill a Supreme Court vacancy until after the November election: "Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection, and it was 27 days before the election, and a seat became open on the United States Supreme Court. Abraham Lincoln's party was in charge, not only in the White House, but the Senate. But honest Abe said it's not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States, and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court." — vice-presidential debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Her claim is unsupported.
It's true that Lincoln did not immediately announce a nomination after the chief justice, Roger Taney, died Oct. 12, 1864, just 27 days before the presidential election.
But there's no evidence that Lincoln said anything as Harris described. His reasons for delaying a nomination remain unclear.
"I would describe Senator Harris's interpretation as fanciful, based on no evidence that I have seen in my 36 years conducting research on — and writing about — Lincoln," said Michael Burlingame, the distinguished chair in Lincoln studies at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Burlingame told The Associated Press in an email Saturday that Lincoln actually delayed a nomination for more practical reasons — the Senate had been out of session for months when Taney died, and it was not scheduled to reconvene until December, after the election.
With his reelection chances already looking strong, Lincoln delayed announcing his pick of Salmon Chase, a political rival known for his anti-slavery views, to avoid offending conservatives and moderates before the election who did not share Chase's "radical" Republican views, according to Burlingame.
Republicans are pushing forward with hearings Monday for Barrett, Trump's pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month. Democrats say the Senate should wait until after the Nov. 3 election to let the winner of the presidential election fill the vacancy. Obviously, they hope the winner will be Joe Biden.
TRUMP, on Democratic criticism that he has no plan to protect people with preexisting conditions: "They know that's false. ... We are going to protect people with preexisting conditions, and they're going to pay a lot less money for the new health care." — interview Sunday on Fox News.
THE FACTS: No, there is no clear plan. People with preexisting conditions are already protected by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, and if the Trump administration succeeds in persuading the Supreme Court to overturn it, those protections will be in jeopardy.
Trump has signed an executive order declaring it the policy of the U.S. government to protect people with preexisting conditions, but he would have to go back to Congress to work out legislation to replace those "Obamacare" provisions.
Various Republican approaches offered in 2017 would have undermined the protections in the ACA, and Trump has not offered details of how his plan would work. Although Trump has been in office nearly four years, he has yet to roll out the comprehensive health care proposal he once promised.
TRUMP: "The country is doing well. We're looking like a super V." — Fox interview Sunday.
THE FACTS: Not so.
It's too soon to know the shape of the recovery — things are still fragile.
The Trump administration could point to the stock market and argue a rebound that resembles a "V." But the monthly job gains have started to slow in a way that suggests the recovery is tapering off without additional government aid. The poorest Americans have yet to return to work in substantial numbers, while the affluent are doing better. That has prompted some economists to say the U.S. is actually in a "K-shaped" recovery with the paths diverging between the richest and the poorest.
What is clear is that nearly $3 trillion in government aid cushioned the blow from the recession. Roughly two-thirds of Americans have described their personal finances as good in polling by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs, as direct checks and expanded jobless aid helped. But those benefits have run out, causing doubts about the trajectory of the economy.
TRUMP on Biden: "He gets up and he says, we're not fracking. We're not fracking. He was fracking. For six months he was fracking. He was raising his -- his very thin hand and he was fracking. And now all of a sudden he's not fracking. ... It's ridiculous. He said he's not fracking." — Thursday to Fox News.
THE FACTS: It's OK to be very confused by this.
What Trump was trying to say is that Biden flip-flopped on whether he would ban fracking, though the president skipped the part about banning in his remark. Biden in a 2019 Democratic primary debate said he would ban fracking, but his campaign quickly said he misspoke and corrected the record. Biden supports banning new oil and gas leases on public lands but says he does not want a fracking ban and considers such a ban probably impossible.
Trump did add at the end of more fracking accusations, "They're going to stop fracking the minute they get into office." That's false, but it is the accusation Trump was trying to make before.
Biden did not flip-flop but rather flubbed his position at one event, his campaign said.
Democrats are divided on fracking and not all of them appreciated the clarity that Harris brought to the issue in the vice presidential debate, when she stoutly declared a Biden administration would not ban fracking.
"Fracking is bad, actually," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
FROM THE DEBATE
PENCE: "The both of you repeatedly committed to abolishing fossil fuel and banning fracking. … President Trump has made clear we're going to continue to listen to the science" on climate change.
THE FACTS: In addition to being wrong about Biden's position on fracking, Pence is wrong to say Trump follows the science on climate change. He conspicuously doesn't.
Trump's public comments as president all dismiss the science on climate change — that it's caused by people burning fossil fuels and it's worsening sharply. As recently as last month, Trump said, "I don't think science knows" what it's talking about regarding global warming and the resulting worsening of wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. He's ridiculed the science in many public comments and tweets.
As for his actions, his regulation-cutting has eliminated key Obama-era efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Pence is correct when he says Harris supported banning fracking. That was when she was running for president.
At a CNN climate change town hall for Democratic presidential candidates last year, Harris said, "There's no question I'm in favor of banning fracking. Starting with what we can do from Day One on public lands." Now, as Biden's running mate, she is bound to his agenda, which is different.
PENCE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "tells us that, actually, as difficult as they are, there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many of the climate alarmists use hurricanes and wildfires to try and sell a bill of goods."
THE FACTS: He's evading what science actually says about climate change and hurricanes. The main studies don't assert Earth is seeing more hurricanes than a century ago. They find that today's hurricanes are worse because of the warming climate.
Research shows that intensification of the storms has increased tremendously since the 1980s in the Atlantic and the only explanation is human-caused climate change.
An analysis of 167 years of federal storm data by The Associated Press in 2017 found that no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, with winds greater than 110 mph, this many days of those whoppers spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.
Such findings are what alarm scientists and part of what Pence calls alarmist.
TRADE and TAXES
PENCE: "Joe Biden wants to go back to the economic surrender to China, that when we took office, half of our international trade deficit was with China alone. And Joe Biden wants to repeal all of the tariffs that President Trump put into effect to fight for American jobs and American workers."
THE FACTS: The tariffs were not the win claimed by Pence.
For starters, tariffs are taxes that consumers and businesses pay through higher prices. So Pence is defending tax increases. The tariffs against China did cause the trade deficit in goods with China to fall in 2019. But that's a Pyrrhic victory at best as overall U.S. economic growth slowed from 3% to 2.2% because of the trade uncertainty.
More important, the Trump administration has not decreased the overall trade imbalance. For all trading partners, the government said the trade deficit was $576.9 billion last year, nearly $100 billion higher than during the last year of Barack Obama's presidency.
HARRIS, on Trump's tax cuts: "On Day 1, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill."
THE FACTS: No, that's not what Biden proposes. He would repeal some of it. Nor can he repeal a law on his own, much less on his first day in office. Harris also said Biden will not raise taxes on people making under $400,000. If he were to repeal the Trump tax cuts across the board, he would be breaking that promise.
PENCE, on the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event after which more than 11 attendees tested positive for COVID-19: "It was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly and routinely advise."
THE FACTS: His suggestion that the event followed public health safety recommendations is false. The event, introducing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, drew more than 150 people and flouted safety recommendations in multiple ways. And it was not all outside.
"We had a super-spreader event in the White House," Fauci told CBS Radio News. "And it was in a situation where people were crowded together, were not wearing masks."
The CDC says large gatherings of people who have traveled from outside the area and aren't spaced at least 6 feet apart pose the greatest risk for spreading the virus.
That's exactly the type of high-risk event the White House hosted.
Guests were seated close together, not 6 feet apart, in rows of chairs outside. Many were captured on camera clapping backs, shaking hands and talking, barely at arm's length.
The CDC also "strongly encourages" people to wear masks, but few in the Rose Garden wore them. There was also a private reception inside the White House after the Rose Garden ceremony, where some politicians, including North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who has since tested positive, were pictured not wearing masks.
HARRIS on the virus: "The president said it was a hoax."
THE FACTS: That's misleading.
She's referring to a Feb. 28 campaign rally in South Carolina in which Trump said the phrases "the coronavirus" and "this is their new hoax" at separate points. Although his meaning is difficult to discern, the broader context of his words shows he was railing against Democrats for their denunciations of his administration's coronavirus response.
"Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," he said at the rally. "You know that, right? Coronavirus. They're politicizing it." He meandered briefly to the subject of the messy Democratic primary in Iowa, then the Russia investigation before returning to the pandemic. "They tried the impeachment hoax. ... And this is their new hoax."
Asked at a news conference the day after the rally to clarify his remarks, Trump said he was not referring to the coronavirus itself as a hoax.
"No, no, no." he said. "'Hoax' referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody, because we've done such a good job. The hoax is on them, not — I'm not talking about what's happening here. I'm talking what they're doing. That's the hoax."
HARRIS, on the effects of the pandemic: "One in 5 businesses, closed."
THE FACTS: That's not accurate, as of now. We don't know yet how many businesses have permanently closed — or could do so in the months ahead.
What we do know is that the National Federation of Independent Business said in August that 1 in 5 small businesses will close if economic conditions don't improve in the next six months.
Many small businesses survived in part through the forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program. Larger employers such as Disney and Allstate insurance have announced layoffs, as have major airlines. Restaurants that survived the pandemic with outdoor eating will soon face the challenge of cold weather. So it's too soon to tell how many businesses have closed or will.