Trump’s COVID-19 Speech Was Full Of Lies That Had To Be Corrected Overnight

Trump’s COVID-19 Speech Was Full Of Lies That Had To Be Corrected Overnight
Photo: Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a shocking speech from the Oval Office on Wednesday night about the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing that virtually all air travel from Europe would stop for 30 days, all cargo shipments from Europe would be suspended, and health insurance companies would waive co-pays for all coronavirus treatments.

Much of what the president said simply isn’t true. And Trump’s own government scrambled to correct the record overnight.

Lie #1: The U.S. is banning all air travel from Europe

President Trump said the U.S. is banning all air travel from Europe, though the United Kingdom is exempt. The reality, according to top officials at the Department of Homeland Security, is that the ban on travel from Europe doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Trump’s claim during Wednesday’s speech:

We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground. There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings…

Acting Deputy Secretary for U.S. Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, corrected the president on Twitter after the speech, explaining that American citizens, permanent residents, and their families will be allowed to travel from Europe. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf released a statement late last night saying the same thing, albeit with plenty of praise for the president to boost his ego.

The ban affects 26 countries and does exclude the UK for some unknown reason. But there doesn’t appear to be anything restricting travellers from Europe simply making a connection through London and flying on to any U.S. destination. EU leaders issued a statement on Thursday condemning the ban.

“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” top EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel said in a joint statement posted online. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”

Why would Trump exclude the UK, when it has at least 459 COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths? No one knows for sure, but as Politico points out, President Trump owns three resorts in Britain and Ireland. All three have struggled financially.

Lie #2: The U.S. is banning trade and cargo shipments from Europe

Trump also said the prohibitions on travel from Europe would include “trade and cargo,” something that would completely shut out many vital imports, including medical supplies.

Trump’s claim during Wednesday’s speech:

…and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

After the speech, Trump tweeted the exact opposite of what he said about stopping trade with Europe.

“…please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe,” Trump tweeted. “The restriction stops people not goods.”

Why did the president say the ban would apply to trade during his speech from the White House last night? Trump was reading from a teleprompter and it’s very likely that when Trump said “these prohibitions will not only apply” he was supposed to say “will not apply.”

Trump often does this during his rallies, making a mistake while he’s reading his speech and just rolling with it instead of correcting himself.

Lie #3: Health insurance companies will waive all co-pays for COVID-19 treatments

President Trump also said that his meeting with execs from the health insurance industry was so successful that he got them to waive co-pays for COVID-19 treatments.

Trump’s claim during Wednesday’s speech:

Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.

The truth is that while many major health insurance companies have pledged to cover the cost of testing for COVID-19, they haven’t necessarily pledged to cover co-pays for treatments as the president claimed. And many Americans might have insurance through a company that hasn’t pledged to cover the cost of anything related to COVID-19. The only way to know for sure is by contacting your insurance company.

“The industry is not a monolith,” Karen Pollitz from the Kaiser Family Foundation told Time magazine yesterday. “We don’t have a rule yet that says all insurers must do ‘x,’ so flip your insurance card over and call the 800 number.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade group for the health insurance industry, did not immediately respond to an email from Gizmodo seeking clarification on Thursday morning. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Lie #4: Testing is expanding rapidly

Trump also said that testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. was expanding rapidly and that the U.S. federal government was moving very quickly. Both of those points are false, based on reports from multiple reputable news organisations this week.

Trump’s claim during Wednesday’s speech:

Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We are moving very quickly.

The reality is that many Americans who believe they’ve contracted the new coronavirus still can’t get tested. There’s a severe shortage of some medical lab supplies that allow for the tests and the federal government has been incredibly slow to respond.

An article published this morning in the Los Angeles Times explains just how slow testing has been in the U.S., especially in a state with almost 39 million people:

In California, only 1,138 people have been tested for the virus in public health labs, despite several thousand who have likely been exposed to infected patients. [Governor Gavin] Newsom said Tuesday that the reagent shortage had contributed to a backlog in testing and that the administration had “been very aggressive with the CDC” in demanding more reagents.

A spokesman for Qiagen, a top supplier of the reagents, said the pandemic was “challenging our capacity to supply certain products” and that it would increase production in facilities in Germany, Spain and Maryland. The company will also hire additional employees and adjust staffing to cover three shifts, working seven days per week.

Last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that any travel restrictions would be “irrelevant” if the situation became a pandemic. The World Health Organisation declared the current crisis a pandemic on Wednesday.

In the U.S., at least 1,323 people have been infected with COVID-19 and 38 people have died, according to the latest figures from 40 to 70 per cent of Americans could eventually become infected.

All we can hope for is that the U.S. president stops spreading misinformation directly from the Oval Office. But we’re not going to hold our breath.