President Donald Trump, in daily news conferences at the White House and in interviews, has made a number of false or misleading claims about the coronavirus and U.S. efforts to combat it, including some that put him at odds with health experts and that prompted clarifications from his own top health and science officials.
NBC News is fact-checking some of his statements, made or repeated at various points during the ongoing global crisis, and updating this article.
Claim: The U.S. implemented a travel ban “way ahead of anybody else.” This is false.
On April 1, Trump told reporters that the United States had banned “dangerous foreign travel that threatens the health of our people and we did so early, far earlier than anyone would have thought, and way ahead of anybody else.”
The U.S. implemented a restriction on foreign travelers who had been in China in the past two weeks, at 5 p.m. Feb. 2. Italy had already done so by Jan. 31 and North Korea had banned all foreign tourists Jan. 22.
Claim: The U.S. is testing more than other countries. This needs context.
During a news conference March 30, Trump said, “We have done more tests, by far, than any country in the world, by far,” in response to a question about the United States lagging behind in testing residents “per capita.”
It is technically true that the U.S. has run more tests for the disease caused by the virus than any other country, but this claim, one the president makes frequently, requires more context. The U.S. is not testing the same share of its population as other countries, a key measure.
On March 31, the White House said there had been more than 1.1 million tests; that’s 1 in 297 people who are getting tested. South Korea, for instance, has done 410,564 tests as of the same day. But South Korea has a population of 51 million people, which means they’re testing a much larger share of the population — 1 in every 124 people.
Trump argued Monday that the U.S. is a large country and there are areas that wouldn’t need ramped-up testing. But even in the hardest-hit areas — like New York City — many cannot get tested.
Claim: There’s an “approved” treatment for COVID-19. That’s not accurate.
The president has promoted an anti-malaria drug as an “approved” treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“The hydroxychloroquine and the Z-pack, I think, as a combination, probably, it’s looking very, very good,” Trump said during a news briefing March 23. He called the pair of medicines a “drug that got approved in record-setting time.”
There’s some early evidence that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — decades-old drugs used to prevent malaria and treat rheumatic diseases — might help patients fight off the virus, particularly when paired with the antibiotic azithromycin, commonly known as a Z-Pack.
But it’s not an “approved” treatment for the coronavirus, according to the Food and Drug Administration, or even a fully vetted option, according to one of Trump’s top scientists.
“The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So, you really can’t make any definitive statement about it,” the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said during the same news conference.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, also said in March that the agency wants “a large, pragmatic clinical trial” to see whether the drug “actually benefits patients.”
A nationwide trial to determine whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent the disease in exposed persons is underway, NPR reported March 31.
Claim: Some hospital workers may be taking hydroxychloroquine already. True, but medical associations have urged caution.
Trump said of hydroxychloroquine on March 31: “I think some medical workers are doing that, using it maybe or getting it prescribed perhaps as — for another use.”
“There is a theory going around that in our country and some other countries, people are taking that — that work in the hospitals, that work with the patients — because there is some evidence. And, again, it’s going to have to be proven. It’s very early,” he added.
Here, Trump is continuing to promote an unapproved treatment by amplifying anecdotal reports of a practice medical authorities have acknowledged is indeed happening. But those same authorities have issued warnings against the practice, in large part because the treatment is not approved by the FDA.
The American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists released a joint statement acknowledging “that some physicians and others are prophylactically prescribing medications currently identified as potential treatments for COVID-19.”
“We strongly oppose these actions,” the statement said. “We caution hospitals, health systems, and individual practitioners that no medication has been FDA-approved for use in COVID-19 patients.”
These early anecdotal success stories, and the president’s public promotion of the drugs as an effective weapon against the disease, have led to hoarding and shortages of the drug, leaving people with lupus and other rheumatoid diseases wondering if they’ll be able to refill their prescriptions.
Claim: New York hospital staff are stealing lots of PPE. There’s no evidence of this.
During multiple news conferences, Trump has questioned the rate at which a hospital in New York is using personal protective equipment (PPE), suggesting that theft is why the unnamed facility needs 300,000 masks a week.
At one point, he claimed a distributor told him that a New York hospital’s mask purchases were far too high to reflect actual need.
“There’s only a couple of things that could happen — is it going out the back door? And I’ve reported it to the city and let the city take a look at it. But when you go from 10,000 masks to 300,000 masks … there’s something going on,” Trump said during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on March 30.
While there were anecdotal reports of mask theft, there’s no indication this has driven up supply needs dramatically — and officials from New York state and the city, as well as hospitals, strongly disputed Trump. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo skewered the suggestion of rampant theft, explaining that the state has been preparing for the apex of the pandemic that is coming soon. The state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., with 83,712 confirmed cases as of April 1.