As the official U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed past 3,000 in the last several days, surpassing casualties from the 9/11 attacks, some conservative news personalities have reacted by questioning the accuracy of the numbers.
Diamond & Silk, who are hosts on the Fox Nation streaming site and allies of President Trump whom he has praised online, said Monday that the number of coronavirus deaths being reported by the media had been inflated to make the president look bad.
“In a matter of two weeks, over 1,000 people supposedly died from the coronavirus,” Silk said. “In a two-week time period, over 1,000 people, after being tested positive, have died from the coronavirus. But it took 39 days, from January all the way up to February the 29th, I believe, for the first person to die. My president said, on March the 24th — Tuesday, this past week — my president said that he would love for America to be back up and running.”
“I knew this was going to happen,” Diamond added. “I knew after he said this, this was going to happen.”
“At the time he said it, there was 25,489 cases with 307 deaths,” continued Silk. “Instantaneously, you had the media calling President Trump out, he wanted open by Easter, he wants this open by Easter — me and you was talking, I said now watch the number of deaths go up. Watch everything increase, because they wanted to make it look bad in front of our eyes.”
The number of cases and deaths in the U.S. matched the trends in other countries that failed to take timely measures, such as testing and stay-at-home orders, to stop the spread. Experts, including some on the White House coronavirus task force, said Trump’s April 12 goal for returning the country to normal was far too aggressive. On Monday, Trump extended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommended no gatherings of more than 10 people and limiting any unnecessary travel until April 30.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were over 181,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and more than 3,600 deaths.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin said Monday that he was skeptical of the numbers of reported dead from the coronavirus, saying, “I cannot find anywhere the definition of what it means to die from this virus.”
The cause of death of anyone who dies while under medical care — the vast majority of COVID-19 casualties — is certified by the attending physician. Patients who test positive for the coronavirus and who develop the telltale symptoms of acute respiratory distress to the point of death are presumptively counted as having died of it.
Levin went on to suggest that all calculation of the lethality of the coronavirus — just under 2 percent, based on 3,600 deaths out of 181,000 cases — is exaggerated. “When these television stations and networks put on their screen the number of confirmed cases of the virus and then next to it the number of deaths, it is extraordinarily misleading because what you really want to know is something they can’t put on the screen: What is the actual denominator, what is the actual universe of people who have this virus? We don’t know,” said Levin. “They don’t even have a disclaimer or a little sentence under it saying, ‘We don’t know how many people have this virus.’”
Levin is correct that we don’t know the exact number of those who’ve had the disease — in part because some people can be infected, and infectious, without showing symptoms — but that is partially due to the federal government’s slow response in increasing its testing capability across the country, an issue governors of both parties have brought up this week.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh joined the chorus of those questioning hospitalization rates on Tuesday.
“One of the things that interests me is the hospitalization numbers,” said Limbaugh. “Because if you look at [the Drudge Report], if you look at the drive-by media, you would believe there is not a single hospital bed in this country, right? You have been led to believe that every hospital is overflowing. That dead bodies are in body bags and refrigerated trucks that are being parked off to landfills or whatever. I mean, some of the most incredible reporting I have seen, and it is in New York, it is in Washington, D.C., Maryland, the Eastern Seaboard states. There’s just not a hospital bed around, the hospitals are overflowing.”
Many hospitals in the New York City area are at capacity. More beds have been added at the city’s convention center by the Army Corps of Engineers and National Guard troops, by volunteers building a tent hospital in Central Park and by the arrival of the USNS Comfort hospital ship at a dock on the Hudson River. Limbaugh has been outspoken in downplaying the virus, comparing it to the common cold as late as March 11.
On Sunday evening, a Fox News panel questioned how bad the virus could be if some hospitals had empty parking lots.
“People are saying, ‘Film your hospital,’ people are driving by their hospitals and they’re not seeing — in the ones that I’m seeing — they’re not seeing anybody in the parking lots,” said contributor Sara Carter. “They’re not seeing anybody drive up. So people are wondering what’s going on inside the hospital. How many people are actually in the hospitals that are suffering from coronavirus, how many ventilators, are the ICUs really being filled, how full are they, what’s happening in my hometown? So people have questions, and they need answers.”
Carter added, “That’s not saying that what’s happening right now isn’t serious and very real,” although she posted and then deleted a tweet promoting the #FilmYourHospital hashtag.
Twitter has deleted tweets from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Fox News host Laura Ingraham for containing inaccurate information about the virus and potential treatments for it. Fox Business host Trish Regan was fired last week after referring to the coronavirus as an “impeachment scam,” but similar language was used by other hosts on the family of networks in downplaying the virus.
As the disease spread in early March, other conservative figures also said it was being overhyped by the media.
“GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS. Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW! If government doesn’t stop this foolishness...STAY IN THE STREETS. END GOVERNEMNT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS,” wrote former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who was floated as a possible candidate for a Trump administration post at the Department of Homeland Security, in a now-deleted tweet.
“People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit — financially or politically — from the ensuing panic,” former Rep. Ron Paul wrote on his website.
A week later, Paul’s son Rand, the senator from Kentucky, tested positive for the virus.
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