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Fact-checking Trump on coronavirus: Nurses won't get new masks for over a year

Trump continually lied about his early response to the virus.

By Emily Singer - March 18, 2020
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Donald Trump

As the novel coronavirus spreads and drastic measures to contain the outbreak threaten to cause economic pain for millions of Americans, Donald Trump has spent his time lying and distorting facts, often blaming others for the fallout rather than taking personal responsibility.

Here’s a look at his most recent untruths. 

Thursday, March 19

Trump told nurses the government ordered 500 million N95 respirator masks. — Bloomberg News report on Thursday

Trump reportedly told a group of nurses on Wednesday that masks — which are running low in hospitals but are desperately needed to stop the spread of the virus to health care workers on the front lines — were on their way.

However, Trump failed to tell the nurses the masks would take 18 months to arrive, misleading them about the speed in which they’d receive the necessary supply. 

“A drug called Chloroquine … is showing very, very encouraging early results, and we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, and that’s where the FDA has been so great, they’ve gone through the approval process, and it’s been approved.” — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump seemed to claim the Food and Drug Administration had approved a drug used to treat malaria to be used against COVID-19.

According to Bloomberg News, almost immediately after Trump announced this, the FDA pushed back against the claim, saying that it hadn’t approved the drug for this use and that it still needs to undergo a clinical trial to ensure it’s safe. 

“It’s something that surprised the whole world. If people could’ve known about it, it could’ve been stopped in place.” — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump claimed that no one knew a virus like this was coming.

However, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had actually conducted a simulation that mimicked almost the exact respiratory virus pandemic we are currently facing just last year – and it was still unprepared and slow to react amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“It could have been stopped right where it came from: China,” — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump has been blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, calling it by the racist term “Chinese virus.”

However, on Jan. 24, Trump was lauding China’s efforts to stop the virus’ from spreading inside the country.

“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump tweeted at the time. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

Wednesday, March 18

“It’s being signed.” — Trump on the Defense Production Act

Trump’s claim that he signed the Defense Production Act on Wednesday — a Korean War-era law that allows the president to mandate businesses produce goods needed during wartime — is misleading.

“It’s being signed,” Trump said at the White House on Wednesday. “It’s essentially drawn, and I’m going to sign it in just a little while. If we need to use it, we’ll be using it at full speed ahead.”

In the case of COVID-19 disease, the Defense Production Act would allow Trump to order the production of ventilators. Health care professionals have expressed concerns that there won’t be enough of them as the virus spreads and more people fall ill.

Trump later suggested he wasn’t invoking the powers just yet, tweeting Wednesday night,

“I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!”

And at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Trump said he wasn’t going to use the Defense Production Act because governors needed to do the work themselves to get the equipment they need.

“The federal government is not supposed to be out there, buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, you know we’re not a shipping clerk,” Trump said in the White House briefing room.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging Trump to actually use those powers to help produce medical supplies before it’s too late. 

“The President must immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass produce and coordinate distribution of critical medical supplies & personal protective equipment. There is not a day to lose,” Pelosi tweeted on Thursday.

“I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously.” — Trump tweet

The name Trump used for the novel coronavirus is racist and xenophobic, and has contributed to discrimination and even violence against people of Asian descent. Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned against the use of such terms.

And Trump did not “always” take the virus very seriously.

He even refused to cancel speeches before large audiences for days, finally relenting after public health experts continually warned that large gatherings were great places for the virus to spread. 

Tuesday, March 17

“We have a problem that, a month ago, nobody thought about.” — Trump from the White House briefing room

Actually, the coronavirus has been around for months, with the first case dating back to Nov. 17, 2019, in China, according to the South China Morning Post.

Two former members of Trump’s administration were issuing warnings in January that the United States needed to act to “prevent an American epidemic.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden also wrote in January as the coronavirus spread across the globe that the “possibility of a pandemic is a challenge Donald Trump is unqualified to handle as president.”

“I felt this was a pandemic long before it was a pandemic.” — Trump from the White House briefing room

Trump has long downplayed the impacts of the coronavirus, even as experts warned of the spread and how it could overwhelm the United States’ medical system.

At a campaign rally on Feb. 28 in Charleston, South Carolina, Trump said the coronavirus was a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats. 

He also said in February that the number of cases of COVID-19 disease was “going very substantially down, not up” in the United States, and that “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” 

Sunday, March 15

“It’s a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something we have tremendous control of.” — Trump at a White House press briefing

Trump claimed he has the coronavirus under control.

However, experts say that is not the case. Last week, public health experts said that the virus was still spreading, and that without drastic social distancing measures, the virus would spread and the number of cases would overwhelm hospitals across the country.

Trump seemed to take that to heart on Monday, when he said there needed to be a nationwide effort to stay home to avoid infecting others. 

When asked on Monday in another briefing what he meant when he said we had “tremendous control,” he admitted it wasn’t true that the virus is under control, and said that he was referring to the response to the virus, not the virus itself.

“I was talking about what we’re doing is under control. But I’m not talking about the virus,” Trump said Monday.

This list will updated throughout the week.


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