GOP uses debunked theory to downplay COVID-19 death toll


Top Republicans are seeking to downplay the heavy toll of the coronavirus, in part by pointing to a conspiracy theory that the number of deaths is much lower.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCohen claims in new book that Trump is ‘guilty of the same crimes’ as him ‘Princess Bride’ cast to reunite for Wisconsin Democrats fundraiser Bernie Sanders warns that Trump may not concede the election MORE, along with Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: First Kennedy to lose a Massachusetts election Ernst says she’s ‘skeptical’ about coronavirus death count Trump warnings on lawlessness divide GOP candidates MORE (R-Iowa) and Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallBank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid Chamber to launch ads defending embattled GOP senators McConnell warns control of Senate ‘could go either way’ in November MORE (R-Kan.), who are both in competitive Senate races, have all pointed in recent days to the widely debunked theory that COVID-19 deaths in the United States total just 10,000 instead of the more than 180,000 recorded by health officials.

The speculative remarks come at a time when about 1,000 people a day are dying from the virus, providing a grim backdrop to the final sprint to Election Day. Trump, meanwhile, has been trying to project an optimistic message, frequently pointing to rapid progress toward a vaccine and saying he thinks the virus is “going away.”

The Trump administration has also increasingly emphasized protecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly rather than putting a focus on a broader strategy of trying to suppress the disease overall.

The discredited theory in question points to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage stating that the coronavirus was listed as the sole cause for only 6 percent of deaths from the virus. However, that does not mean the other 94 percent of people did not die from the coronavirus. Instead, it means that another factor directly caused by the coronavirus, such as respiratory failure, was also listed or that there was an underlying condition, such as obesity or diabetes, that is not necessarily fatal on its own but heightens the risks from the coronavirus.

The 6 percent figure has been seized on, however, to minimize the death toll. Last weekend, Trump retweeted a post from user Mel Q, who is a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory, saying only about 9,000 people had “actually” died from the coronavirus. Twitter later removed the tweet for violating its rules.

Ernst likewise said Monday that she is “so skeptical” of case and death counts from the coronavirus, later adding, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19. … I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Marshall, who is a doctor, pointed to the theory based on the 6 percent statistic in a Facebook post Sunday.

“This week the CDC quietly updated its COVID-19 data to reflect the number of deaths from COVID-19 only,” he wrote, adding that it was “only 6%,” according to a screenshot posted by KSNT.

Facebook removed the post, with a spokesperson saying it violated “our policies against spreading harmful misinformation about COVID-19 since it misstates CDC data about the deadliness of the disease.”

The prominence of the discredited theory and its embrace among high-level Republicans has dismayed experts.

“It’s completely, to me, mind-boggling that people are using this as fodder for some conspiracy theory,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

He said experts have long said that underlying conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are risk factors for having a more severe case of the coronavirus, so “that’s not anything surprising” that such conditions were listed as present in many coronavirus deaths.

“I’m not sure why this is even a story other than people are trying to minimize what is a serious infectious disease,” Adalja added.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciHarris on getting any COVID-19 vaccine before election: ‘I would not trust Donald Trump’ Obama encourages social distancing, mask-wearing over Labor Day weekend Companies developing COVID-19 vaccines planning to issue joint safety pledge MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, likewise said on ABC this week, “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19 — they did — so the numbers that you’ve been hearing, the 180,000-plus deaths, are real deaths from COVID-19.”

Asked about Trump’s retweets at a press conference Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump was “highlighting new CDC information that came out that was worth noting.”

Ernst took a different tone in a statement released by her office, saying, “Over 180,000 Americans have died…



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