By JORDYN PHELPS and BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — As the country’s battle against the coronavirus continued through the Fourth of July weekend, President Donald Trump continued to make false claims in downplaying the threat posed by the virus as he instead sought to cast a movement to remove statues immortalizing controversial figures in history as the most pressing threat to the nation.
But while the president looked to pin the danger to the country on an “angry mob” looking to “tear down our statues” and “erase our history,” the country remains locked in a struggle against the coronavirus that has already claimed some 130,000 American lives and climbing, with the country setting new records of daily reported cases.
The president continued to cast the rise in cases as a product of more testing and falsely claimed that “99 percent of which are totally harmless.”
It’s a claim that top infectious disease expert Dr. Ashish Jha said on ABC News’ Good Morning America is “clearly not true” and that the reason for the increase in cases is attributable to “more infections not because we’re doing more testing.”
“Ninety-nine percent of cases are not harmless. Ten percent of people end up getting hospitalized. If you are hospitalized, it’s certainly not harmless. A chunk of those people end up spending quite a bit of time in the ICU and a proportion end up dying so it’s not harmless for any of those folks,” Shah, the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said.
Trump’s attempts to play down the threat of COVID-19 comes as his administration comes under fire for his handling of the coronavirus, as many states which he urged to reopen now see surging caseloads that threaten to overwhelm hospitals in some cases.
Nearly half of all 50 states have seen a rise in infections in recent weeks, with some — including Arizona, California and Florida — reporting daily records.
More than 49,000 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the United States on Sunday — just under the country’s record high of more than 54,000 new cases identified Thursday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, another claim by Trump on when a COVID-19 vaccine could become available — contrasted sharply with the timeline laid out for months by top government and outside public health experts.
During a Fourth of July address in Washington on Saturday, Trump said “we’ll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.”
The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, on Sunday refused to back up Trump’s assertion — which contradicted public health officials’ predictions a vaccine could be available at the end of the year or early next year, at the earliest.
“I can’t predict when a vaccine will be available,” Hahn said on ABC’s This Week, adding, “Yes, we are seeing unprecedented speed for the development of a vaccine. But … our solemn promise to the American people is that we will make a decision based upon the data and science on a vaccine, with respect to the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine.”
He also pointedly did not defend Trump’s false claim about 99% of cases being “totally harmless.”
“What I’d say is, you know, any case, we don’t want to have in this country,” Hahn said in the interview with ABC’s This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz. “Any death, any case is tragic, and we want to do everything we can to prevent that.”
While Hahn wouldn’t confirm the president’s dubious claim, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows continued to defend the president’s remark without offering evidence to support the figure.
“When you start to look at the stats and the numbers we have, the amount of testing, the vast majority of people are safe from this,” Meadows said Monday morning on Fox and Friends, claiming that “the risks are extremely low” for people without co-morbidities: “The president is right with that and the facts and statistics back us up there.”
Trump’s false and defiant comments came as he defied recommendations from federal and local health officials to not hold two massive gatherings at Mount Rushmore and in Washington to celebrate Independence Day.
As thousands of Americans packed together closely in South Dakota and outside the White House — few wearing masks — the president’s re-election campaign again flouted health officials’ calls to avoid large gatherings by announcing it would hold a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this weekend.
Unlike a campaign rally the president held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month, this one is scheduled to take place outdoors, which health officials say generally carries less risk than large events held inside, and the campaign says supporters are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks.
Even so, as with the Tulsa rally, attendees are required to agree to a disclaimer noting that they “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”
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