Fact check: Trump again touts unproven drugs for coronavirus, and other misleading statements from Monday’s briefing
President Donald Trump made another series of inaccurate and misleading statements during his coronavirus press briefing Monday afternoon from the White House Rose Garden.
Trump inaccurately characterized previous statements he has made downplaying the severity of the crisis. He again talked up medications that have not been clinically proven safe or effective for use against the coronavirus. Immediately after boasting about having superior knowledge of South Korea, he misstated the population of Seoul. And in touting progress on coronavirus testing, he omitted important context.
Here’s a fact check of his statements from the briefing.
Anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus
Trump and members of his administration on Monday again mentioned two drugs that could potentially help combat the coronavirus.
Over the weekend, large drugmakers announced that they were providing millions of doses of the drugs to the federal government, and the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency approval for the Trump administration’s plan to send the drugs to hospitals across the country.
The medicines, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, are anti-malaria drugs that have been used off-label at hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.
Facts First: While public health officials are hopeful that the drugs will work against coronavirus, Trump’s tone hasn’t matched the science, which is extremely limited and anecdotal at this early stage.
Trump’s over-the-top optimism has been tamped down by the medical professionals on the White House task force handling the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top public health official on infectious diseases, said the proof is only anecdotal. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was similarly careful with his language on Monday, and referred to the drugs as “potential Covid-19 treatments.”
Trump has repeatedly touted the drugs in recent weeks, even though there haven’t been any clinical trials in humans proving that they work for coronavirus. Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that the drugs “have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.”
CNN Health’s Arman Azad wrote about this on Sunday. He said: “Thus far, there is little scientific evidence that chloroquine, or its closely-related analogue hydroxychloroquine, are effective in treating Covid-19. … While there’s limited evidence on the efficacy of chloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine, the FDA said the drugs’ benefits outweighed their risk.”
Trump’s past comments about the virus
CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta asked Trump what he has to say to Americans who are upset with him for having repeatedly downplayed the virus in February and early March. Acosta read out a series of Trump quotes, including a February 23 remark in which Trump claimed the virus was “very much under control in this country” and a March 10 remark in which Trump said, “It will go away. Just stay calm, it will go away.”
Trump responded, “If you look at those individual statements, they’re all true: stay calm, it will go away. You know it is going away.”
Facts First: Trump’s previous comments were not “all true.” The virus was clearly not “under control” in February — nor was it under control in mid-March, when Trump made another version of the claim, and nor is it under control today.
And Trump was misleading when he said on March 10 that the virus “will go away.” While the virus may eventually be eliminated in the United States, Trump did not mention that thousands of Americans could die before this happened, nor that the country could have to implement drastic measures to try to slow its spread.
Experts also warn that there could be a second wave of the virus in the US even after the immediate crisis is over.
“COVID19 won’t go away. It’ll infect the southern hemisphere as they winter and will want to come back to U.S. in fall,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who formerly served as Trump’s Food and Drug Administration commissioner, wrote on Twitter after Trump’s comment on Monday. “But we’ll have a massive surveillance system by then, and I believe more than one drug to both prevent and treat infection. Our tool box will be very different.”
Talking about why South Korea has conducted more coronavirus tests per capita than the US, Trump noted that South Korea is more densely populated. He said, “I know South Korea better than anybody. It’s a very tight. Do you know how many people are in Seoul? Do you know how big the city of Seoul is? Thirty-eight million people. That’s bigger than anything we have.”
Facts First: Trump was wrong about Seoul’s population. The population of the city itself was about 10 million in 2019. The Seoul metropolitan region, known as the Seoul Capital Area, had a population of about 26 million.
Trump has, over the last two years, increased Seoul’s supposed population. In 2018, he said it was 28 million, then that it was 30 million. In early 2019, he said it was “30-some-odd million.”