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The week in fact-checking: Biden's accuser, coronavirus testing
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop at National Cattle Congress Pavilion on Feb. 1, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop at National Cattle Congress Pavilion on Feb. 1, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop at National Cattle Congress Pavilion on Feb. 1, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP)

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan May 1, 2020

"The Week in Fact-checking" compiles short summaries of our most notable work; the links will take you to our full reports. Want this report early and via email? Sign up here

This week: Biden's accuser ... Please don’t drink disinfectant … PolitiFact on YouTube … Biden distorts coronavirus testing numbers … What is the leading cause of death these days? … Now there are conspiracies about JFK Jr. … Readers say they like us, they like democracy

Tara Reade has accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. Here’s what we know

Vice President Joe Biden faces sexual assault allegations made by a former aide who worked for him when he was a U.S. senator. Tara Reade was a 29-year-old staff assistant in 1993 when she says Biden pushed her against a wall in the Capitol complex and assaulted her.

Biden and his campaign have denied what Reade says happened. 

We compiled a timeline of what we know about the accusation and the denial, reviewing how the story unfolded and looking at who has and who hasn't corroborated Reade's account. Read our full story

Trump’s comments on using disinfectants, sunlight to treat COVID-19: why they are wrong

President Donald Trump has since walked back what he said during an April 23 press briefing, but it’s hard to forget. Speaking to other members of his team, he raised the idea of disinfectants and UV light to treat COVID-19:

"Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that, too," he said. "Then I see the disinfectant knocks it out in a minute, one minute. Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" (Read extended excerpts of his comments.)

Companies that make cleaning products, state agencies and public health officials immediately warned Americans not to ingest disinfectants. It’s not only ineffective, but also dangerous.

Trump’s comments echoed online hoaxes we had already fact-checked about how to prevent and treat the virus. 

Trump’s comments were based on the findings of a preliminary DHS study that found disinfectants like bleach and isopropyl alcohol, an ingredient in hand sanitizer, quickly kill the virus on surfaces. But those results don’t mean the chemicals would be effective in the human body. In fact, they would be harmful.

"Disinfectants include powerful chemical agents that cannot be used topically, ingested or injected. Indeed, the product label emphasizes this point," said Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, in an email.

As for light, an official at the White House briefing said that exposure to sun and humidity can decrease the half life, or rate of decay, of the coronavirus on surfaces and in aerosols. But the study is preliminary — it has not yet been peer-reviewed, and the results are limited to the impact of sunlight on the virus in the air and surfaces, not inside the body.

UVC light has helped some hospitals cut the transmission rate of diseases like MRSA, which can linger in rooms after patients are discharged. The light waves kill bacteria and viruses by disrupting their DNA.

But applying UVC light directly to the body is damaging, according to Dr. Sylvie Garneau-Tsodikova, a pharmaceutical sciences professor at the University of Kentucky. It damages genetic material and could cause burns within seconds, she said.

Daniel Funke

Introducing The Truth-O-Meter Minute, now on YouTube

We launched a new YouTube series this week to cover misinformation about the pandemic. 

The first four episodes of "Truth-O-Meter Minute" are available to watch on YouTube and on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). They tackle claims you may have seen on Facebook about President Donald Trump's interest in hydroxychloroquine, privacy settings on Zoom and stimulus checks. 

New episodes are on the way for next week! Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Fact-checks of the week

Counting coronavirus tests: Democratic candidate Joe Biden had this to say on the country’s testing capacity: "The Trump Administration promised 27 million tests by the end of March. As of now, only 4 million have been completed." We rated that Half True. Biden conflated two different metrics: the number of projected available tests in the market and the number of people in the U.S. actually tested. There are more tests available than 4 million, but labs have also had big problems with supply shortages. 

Recycling N95 masks: Trump recently praised efforts to use N95 masks to protect against the coronavirus. "We’re also using a sterilization process ― some great equipment that will sterilize masks up to 20 times per mask. So that’s like ordering 20 times more masks," Trump said. We rated that Half True. Technology is being used to sterilize N95s up to 20 times. But there are shortcomings that limit how effective this process is. Government authorities and health care researchers have said this is a crisis measure and is in no way as effective as using new masks.

Is coronavirus the leading cause of death? "COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States," North Carolina health secretary Mandy Cohen said on April 20. We rated that Half True. When it comes to deaths per day, Cohen has a point. In the bigger picture, heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of death. The CDC has advised against using daily numbers to make sweeping claims about the biggest causes of death in America.

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Pants on Fire

Do you smell smoke? 

Here's your Pants on Fire fact-check of the week: 

"Joe Biden was involved in a plot to kidnap JFK Jr. according to the just declassified FBI files."

You didn’t hear about this because it’s not true.

See what else we've rated Pants on Fire this week. 

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More by Angie Drobnic Holan

The week in fact-checking: Biden's accuser, coronavirus testing