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Fact-Checking Trump’s Claims About the U.S. Death Rate in That Viral Axios Interview

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  • In a now-viral interview that was recorded last week, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is “under control, as much as you can control it.”
  • Despite that, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on the country’s increasing death rate, a fact which Trump denied.
  • At one point, Trump also seemed to insinuate that South Korea’s death count is much higher than the 301 deaths it has reported, but he provided no basis for that.
  • Below is a list of coronavirus-related claims stated by Trump in the interview and a breakdown of how true or false those claims are.

Trump’s Axios Interview Goes Viral

In a clip that has now been viewed more than 30 million times alone on Twitter, President Donald Trump denied the United States’ climbing coronavirus death rate and made a number of other false statements. 

That clip is part of a 38-minute Axios on HBO interview, which was recorded on July 28 and aired Monday evening. In that interview, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on a variety of topics including the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell and the recent death of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

However, Trump’s comments regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly captured the most attention.

The Rising U.S. Death Rate in States 

In his interview with Swan, Trump said his administration has done an “incredible” job handling the coronavirus pandemic. 

Immediately, Swan pushed back by pointing to last week’s death rate, which saw daily death totals climbing above 1,000. Nonetheless, Trump rejected those figures and asserted that the death toll was falling. 

“It’s going down in Arizona,” Trump said. “It’s going down in Florida. It’s going down in Texas.”

“It’s going down in Florida?’ Swan asked, bewildered, after pointing out that, nationally, daily deaths tolls were rising at the time of the interview. 

Regarding Florida, it’s possible that Trump was referring to a four-day dip in coronavirus deaths, but even so, four days is not a long enough period of time to accurately gauge whether or not deaths are beginning to decrease. That’s why many states have implemented reopening plans that only allow them to move into new phases after seeing a two week decline in cases.  

Source: The New York Times

On top of that, the day this interview was recorded, Florida experienced its highest death toll up to that point. That record was later topped each day for the next three days in a row. 

Over the last few days, Florida’s daily death toll has significantly dropped; however, it remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a genuine decrease in daily deaths or if the numbers, on average, will continue to rise.

By comparison, Trump’s claim that cases in Arizona are decreasing does seem to be somewhat accurate, and it’s a point Swan even backs up in the interview. Still, that much does not seem to be the case for Texas yet. 

Source: The New York Times
Source: The New York Times

The Death Rate Nationally

Trump accused media outlets of incorrectly reporting coronavirus-related statistics, but he declined to offer an explanation as to how. Instead, he asserted that his administration should receive credit for testing more vigorously than other countries.

“Because we do more tests, we have more cases,” Trump said. “In other words, we test more, we have more.”

For Swan, however, that was not the point. 

“If hospital rates were going down and death rates were going down, I’d say, ‘Terrific. You deserved to be praised for testing,’ Swan responded. “But they’re all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital. A thousand dying a day.” 

“If you watch the news or read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases,” Trump said.

“I’m talking about death,” Swan said. 

“Well, you look,” Trump said. “Death is way down from where it was.”

While Trump is technically correct here, his statement—as Swan noted—is misleading. Beginning in April and continuing through the beginning of May, daily death totals in the U.S. spiked. At one point, the country was recording daily death tolls reaching 2,700 people. 

As May continued, the death toll began to fall, so much so that the country was reporting less than 1,000 deaths a day by mid-June; however, that number started climbing again early last month, eventually climbing back over that 1,000 mark.

Source: The New York Times

“We’re Lower Than the World.”

“And if you look at death, here,” Trump said while pointing to a graph. “United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world.”

“Lower than the world?” Swan asked, bewildered.

“We’re lower than Europe.” Trump continued. 

“In what? In what?” Swan asked. 

“Take a look,” Trump said, still pointing to the graph. “Right here. Here’s case death.”

“Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population,” Swan said in what has now become the most viral moment of the interview. “That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”

“You can’t do that,” Trump said.

Trump and Swan are citing two different stats here. Trump is referring to the percentage of people who die in the U.S. after having contracted the virus, known as the fatality rate. Swan is referring to the percentage of Americans who have died compared to the whole population, known as the mortality rate.

Both are relevant figures, but it is Trump’s denial of the second statistic’s importance that is concerning. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is the 10th-worst nation in terms of per capita coronavirus deaths: 47.50 per 100,000 people.

Among more information, mortality rate can be used to see what percentage of a country’s population has died compared to another country. Such a number is more accurate than simply following raw numbers, as most countries vary significantly in population from the U.S. It’s also less subject to variables than the fatality rate.

“It’s surely a relevant statistic to say if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea—” Swan said.

“No, you have to go by cases,” Trump responded.

“Well, look at South Korea, for example,” Swan said. “Fifty-one million population, 300 deaths. It’s like— it’s crazy.”

“You don’t know that,”  Trump said. You don’t know that.”

“I do, it’s on their—You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?” Swan asked. “An advanced country?”

“I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country, but you don’t know that,” Trump said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, South Korea has only officially recorded 301 deaths. It is possible that Trump said, “You don’t know that,” because there may be some variation in that statistic. Still, even if more or fewer people died than what is officially recorded, that figure is likely not substantially different from the recorded value.

Trump provided no additional context into the meaning of this claim, and there is no basis to suggest that South Korea has fabricated its death toll. 

The Outbreak Is “Under Control”

Near the beginning of the interview, Trump says that the outbreak in the U.S. is “under control, as much as you can control it.”

As of Tuesday, the U.S. undoubtedly leads the world in cases: 4.7 million out of 18.3 million. Similarly, it leads the world in deaths: nearly 156,000 of nearly 695,000.

Notably, it is true that despite massive raw numbers, the U.S. does not have the highest percentage of cases or deaths compared to every country; however, the situation in the U.S. is significantly worse than almost every other country in the world. Even regardless of comparisons, the situation on its own is more than concerning. 

Because of that, Swan immediately pushed back against the president, asking him if his administration has truly done everything in its power to fight the virus. From there, the president shifted blame to governors, though he did praise some.

As Swan also noted, Trump’s position as president carries weight, and despite being highly controversial throughout his term, many listen to his words and trust them.

“I’ve covered you for a long time,” Swan said. “I’ve gone to your rallies. I’ve talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They hang on your every word. They don’t listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we’re fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so when they hear you say, ‘Everything’s under control, don’t worry about wearing mask,’ I mean, decent people. Many of them are older people, Mr. President. It’s giving them a false sense of security.”

“Under the circumstances right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said. 

“How?” Swan asked. A thousand Americans are dying everyday.”

“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said. “And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can.” 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (MarketWatch) (The Washington Post)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes

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The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.


White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint

The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.

Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.

Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.

According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.

“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.

To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:

  • Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
  • Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
  • Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
  • Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
  • Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”

The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.

A Matter of Funding

In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill. 

However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.

As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.

Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.

The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.

The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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