More than a month since he declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, President Donald Trump has repeatedly lied about this once-in-a-generation crisis. Here, a collection of the biggest lies he’s told as the nation barrels toward a public-health and economic calamity.
On the Nature of the Virus
When: Friday, February 7, and Wednesday, February 19
The claim: The coronavirus would weaken “when we get into April, in the warmer weather—that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.”
The truth: It’s too early to tell if the virus’s spread will be dampened by warmer conditions. Respiratory viruses can be seasonal, but the World Health Organization says that the new coronavirus “can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather.”
When: Thursday, February 27
The claim: The outbreak would be temporary: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”
The truth: Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned days later that he was concerned that “as the next week or two or three go by, we’re going to see a lot more community-related cases.”
When: Multiple times
The claim: If the economic shutdown continues, deaths by suicide “definitely would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about” for COVID-19 deaths.
The truth: The White House now estimates that anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19. Other estimates have placed the number at 1.1 million to 1.2 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But the number of people who died by suicide in 2017, for example, was roughly 47,000, nowhere near the COVID-19 estimates. Estimates of the mental-health toll of the Great Recession are mixed. A 2014 study tied more than 10,000 suicides in Europe and North America to the financial crisis. But a larger analysis in 2017 found that while the rate of suicide was increasing in the United States, the increase could not be directly tied to the recession and was attributable to broader socioeconomic conditions predating the downturn.
Blaming the Obama Administration
When: Wednesday, March 4
The claim: The Trump White House rolled back Food and Drug Administration regulations that limited the kind of laboratory tests states could run and how they could conduct them. “The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing,” Trump said.
The truth: The Obama administration drafted, but never implemented, changes to rules that regulate laboratory tests run by states. Trump’s policy change relaxed an FDA requirement that would have forced private labs to wait for FDA authorization to conduct their own, non-CDC-approved coronavirus tests.
When: Friday, March 13
The claim: The Obama White House’s response to the H1N1 pandemic was “a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now.”
The truth: Barack Obama declared a public-health emergency two weeks after the first U.S. cases of H1N1 were reported, in California. (Trump declared a national emergency more than seven weeks after the first domestic COVID-19 case was reported, in Washington State.) While testing is a problem now, it wasn’t back in 2009. The challenge then was vaccine development: Production was delayed and the vaccine wasn’t distributed until the outbreak was already waning.
When: Multiple times
The claim: The Trump White House “inherited” a “broken,” “bad,” and “obsolete” test for the coronavirus.
The truth: The novel coronavirus did not exist in humans during the Obama administration. Public-health experts agree that, because of that fact, the CDC could not have produced a test, and thus a new test had to be developed this year.
When: Multiple times
The claim: The Obama administration left Trump “bare” and “empty” shelves of medical supplies in the national strategic stockpile.
The truth: The 2009 H1N1 outbreak did deplete the N95 mask supply and was never replenished, but the Obama administration did not leave the stockpile empty of other materials. While the stockpile has never been funded at the levels some experts have requested, its former director said in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, that it was well-equipped. (The outbreak has since eaten away at its reserves.)
On Coronavirus Testing
When: Friday, March 6
The claim: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. We—they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
The truth: The country’s testing capabilities are severely limited. Many states have experienced a lack of testing kits, as my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported. Trump made this claim one day after his own vice president, Mike Pence, admitted that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
When: Wednesday, March 11
The claim: In an Oval Office address, Trump said that private-health-insurance companies had “agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.”
The truth: Insurers agreed only to absorb the cost of coronavirus testing—waiving co-pays and deductibles for getting the test. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the second coronavirus-relief bill passed by Congress, later mandated that COVID-19 testing be made free. The federal government has not required insurance companies to cover follow-up treatments, though some providers announced in late March that they will pay for treatments. The costs of other non-coronavirus testing or treatment incurred by patients who have COVID-19 or are trying to get a diagnosis aren’t waived either. And as for surprise medical billing? Mitigating it would require the cooperation of insurers, doctors, and hospitals.
When: Friday, March 13
The claim: Google engineers are building a website to help Americans determine whether they need testing for the coronavirus and to direct them to their nearest testing site.
The truth: The announcement was news to Google itself—the website Trump (and other administration officials) described was actually being built by Verily, a division of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The Verge first reported on Trump’s error, citing a Google representative who confirmed that Verily was working on a “triage website” with limited coverage for the San Francisco Bay Area. But since then, Google has pivoted to fulfill Trump’s public proclamation, saying it would speed up the development of a new, separate website while Verily worked on finishing its project, The Washington Post reported.
When: Tuesday, March 24, and Wednesday, March 25
The claim: The United States has outpaced South Korea’s COVID-19 testing: “We’re going up proportionally very rapidly,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall.
The truth: When the president made this claim, testing in the U.S. was severely lagging behind that in South Korea. As of March 25, South Korea had conducted about five times as many tests as a proportion of its population relative to the United States. For updated data from each country, see the COVID-19 Tracking Project and the database maintained by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Travel Bans and Travelers
When: Wednesday, March 11
The claim: The United States would suspend “all travel from Europe, except the United Kingdom, for the next 30 days,” Trump announced in an Oval Office address.
The truth: The travel restriction would not apply to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or their families returning from Europe. At first, it applied specifically to the 26 European countries that make up the Schengen Area, not all of Europe. Trump later announced the inclusion of the United Kingdom and Ireland in the ban.
Another claim: In the same address, Trump said the travel restrictions would “not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval.”
The truth: Trump followed up in a tweet, explaining that trade and cargo would not be subject to the restrictions.
When: Thursday, March 12
The claim: All U.S. citizens arriving from Europe would be subject to medical screening, COVID-19 testing, and quarantine if necessary. “If an American is coming back or anybody is coming back, we’re testing,” Trump said. “We have a tremendous testing setup where people coming in have to be tested … We’re not putting them on planes if it shows positive, but if they do come here, we’re quarantining.”
The truth: Testing is already severely limited in the United States. It is not true that all Americans returning to the country are being tested, nor that anyone is being forced to quarantine, CNN has reported.
When: Tuesday, March 31
The claim: “We stopped all of Europe” with a travel ban. “We started with certain parts of Italy, and then all of Italy. Then we saw Spain. Then I said, ‘Stop Europe; let’s stop Europe. We have to stop them from coming here.’”
The truth: The travel ban applied to the Schengen Area, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland, and not all of Europe as he claimed. Additionally, Trump is wrong about the United States rolling out a piecemeal ban. The State Department did issue advisories in late February cautioning Americans against travel to the Lombardy region of Italy before issuing a general “Do Not Travel” warning on March 19. But the U.S. never placed individual bans on Italy and Spain.
When: Multiple times
The claim: “Everybody thought I was wrong” about implementing restrictions on travelers from China, and “most people felt they should not close it down—that we shouldn’t close down to China.”
The truth: While the WHO did say it opposed travel bans on China generally, Trump’s own top health officials have made clear that the travel ban was the “uniform” recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services. Fauci and Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the coronavirus task force, both praised the decision too.
On Taking the Pandemic Seriously
When: Tuesday, March 17
The claim: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic … I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”
The truth: Trump has repeatedly downplayed the significance of COVID-19 as outbreaks began stateside. From calling criticism of his handling of the virus a “hoax,” to comparing the coronavirus to a common flu, to worrying about letting sick Americans off cruise ships because they would increase the number of confirmed cases, Trump has used his public statements to send mixed messages and sow doubt about the outbreak’s seriousness.
When: Thursday, March 26
The claim: This kind of pandemic “was something nobody thought could happen … Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”
The truth: Experts both inside and outside the federal government sounded the alarm many times in the past decade about the potential for a devastating global pandemic, as my colleague Uri Friedman has reported. Two years ago, my colleague Ed Yong explored the legacy of Ebola outbreaks—including the devastating 2014 epidemic—to evaluate how ready the U.S. was for a pandemic. Ebola hardly impacted America—but it revealed how unprepared the country was.
On COVID-19 Treatments and Vaccines
When: Monday, March 2
The claim: Pharmaceutical companies are going “to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon.”
The truth: The president’s own experts told him during a White House meeting with pharmaceutical leaders earlier that same day that a vaccine could take a year to 18 months to develop. In response, he said he would prefer if it took only a few months. He later claimed, at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, that a vaccine would be ready “soon.”
When: Thursday, March 19
The claim: At a press briefing with his coronavirus task force, Trump said the FDA had approved the antimalarial drug chloroquine to treat COVID-19. “Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it’s—it was approved very, very quickly and it’s now approved by prescription,” he said.
The truth: FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who was at the briefing, quickly clarified that the drug still had to be tested in a clinical setting. An FDA representative later told Bloomberg that the drug has not been approved for COVID-19 use, though a doctor could still prescribe it for that purpose. Later that same day, Fauci told CNN that there is no “magic drug” to cure COVID-19: “Today, there are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus.”
On the Defense Production Act
When: Friday, March 20
The claim: Trump twice said during a task-force briefing that he had invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War–era law that enables the federal government to order private industry to produce certain items and materials for national use. He also said the federal government was already using its authority under the law: “We have a lot of people working very hard to do ventilators and various other things.”
The truth: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN on March 22 that the president has not actually used the DPA to order private companies to produce anything. Shortly after that, Trump backtracked, saying that he had not compelled private companies to take action. Then, on March 24, Gaynor told CNN that FEMA plans to use the DPA to allocate 60,000 test kits. Trump tweeted afterward that the DPA would not be used.
When: Saturday, March 21
The claim: Automobile companies that have volunteered to manufacture medical equipment, such as ventilators, are “making them right now.”
The truth: Ford and General Motors, which Trump mentioned at a task-force briefing the same day, announced earlier in March that they had halted all factory production in North America and were likely months away from beginning production of ventilators, representatives told the Associated Press. Since then, Ford CEO James Hackett told CNN that the auto company will begin to work with 3M to produce respirators and with General Electric to assemble ventilators. GM said it will explore the possibility of producing ventilators in an Indiana factory. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company Trump highlighted in a tweet, has said that the company is “working on ventilators” but that they cannot be produced “instantly.”
On States’ Resources
When: Tuesday, March 24
The claim: Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York passed on an opportunity to purchase 16,000 ventilators at a low cost in 2015, Trump said during the Fox News town hall.
The truth: Trump seems to have gleaned this claim from a Gateway Pundit article. That piece, in turn, cites a syndicated column from Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, which includes a figure close to 16,000. The number comes from a 2015 report from the state’s health department that provided guidance for how New York could handle a possible flu pandemic. The report notes that the state would need 15,783 more ventilators than it had at the time to aid patients during “an influenza pandemic on the scale of the 1918 pandemic.” The report does not include a recommendation to Cuomo for additional purchases or stockpiling. Trump “obviously didn’t read the document he’s citing,” a Cuomo representative said in a statement.
Another claim: Trump also repeated a claim from the Gateway Pundit article that Cuomo’s office established “death panels” and “lotteries” as part of the state’s pandemic response.
The truth: The 2015 report and the accompanying press release announced updated guidelines for hospitals to follow to allocate ventilators. The guidelines “call for a triage officer or triage committee to determine who receives or continues to receive ventilator therapy” and describes how a random lottery allocation might work. (Neither should be the first options for deciding care, the report notes.) Cuomo never established a lottery.
When: Sunday, March 29
The claim: Trump “didn’t say” that governors do not need all the medical equipment they are requesting from the federal government. And he “didn’t say” that governors should be more appreciative of the help.
The truth: The president told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday, March 26, that “a lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need,” referring to requests from the governors of Michigan, New York, and Washington. He also said, during a Friday, March 27, task-force briefing, that he wanted state leaders “to be appreciative … We’ve done a great job.” He added that he wasn’t talking about himself, but about others within the federal government working to combat the pandemic.
When: Sunday, March 29, and Monday, March 30
The claim: Hospitals are reporting an artificially inflated need for masks and equipment, items that might be “going out the back door,” Trump said on two separate days. He also said he was not talking about hoarding: “I think maybe it’s worse than hoarding.”
The truth: There is no evidence to show that hospitals are maliciously hoarding or inflating their need for masks and personal protective equipment when reporting shortages in supplies. Although Cuomo reported anecdotal stories of thefts from hospitals early in March, he was referring to opportunists trying to price-gouge early in the pandemic. Reuters has reported a handful of stories of nurses hiding masks to conserve supplies amid shortages, but not wide-scale thefts as Trump claimed.
When: Tuesday, April 14
The claim: Asked about his past praise of China and its transparency, Trump said that he hadn’t “talk[ed] about China’s transparency.”
The truth: Trump lauded the country in tweets he sent in late January and early February. In one, he highlighted the Chinese government’s “transparency” about the coronavirus outbreak.
When: Tuesday, April 14 and Wednesday, April 15
The claim: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged people to attend “parties” and a parade in San Francisco’s Chinatown to “show that this thing doesn’t exist.”
The truth: Pelosi did visit San Francisco’s Chinatown in late February to encourage residents not to fear coronavirus in the city. “Precautions have been taken” and the city was “on top of the situation,” she said. But Pelosi did not urge people to attend a parade or parties. San Francisco reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 5, a week later, and the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter in place three weeks after the speaker’s visit.