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President Donald Trump arrives for an ABC News town hall at National Constitution Center, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump arrives for an ABC News town hall at National Constitution Center, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump arrives for an ABC News town hall at National Constitution Center, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg September 16, 2020
Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde September 16, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. doesn’t lead in coronavirus case numbers because it tests more. If the cases weren’t there, testing wouldn’t reveal them. The U.S. is in the middle of the pack globally for the percent of tests that come back positive.

  • Trump falsely characterized his own record on protections for people with pre-existing conditions and distorted Democrats’ stance on this issue. 

  • Trump misled about early statements on the coronavirus from Dr. Anthony Fauci and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Voters pressed President Donald Trump on his response to the coronavirus, racial tensions and health care at an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia.

Trump deflected criticism of how he has handled the pandemic. Even as the death toll — about 200,000 — moves toward the higher end of initial forecasts, Trump said he took strong steps to stem the spread of the disease.

He rejected the idea that his efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act would undermine current protections for people with preexisting conditions. When ABC host George Stephanopulous asked him why he hadn’t yet put forward a replacement plan with protections in place, Trump said, "I have it all ready."

Trump has promised many times before that a health plan was in the offing. It has not emerged.

RELATED: Back to the future: Trump’s history of promising a health plan that never comes

Trump repeated several false and misleading claims he often makes at campaign rallies.

Here’s a fact-checked recap of some of Trump’s claims on the coronavirus, his own record and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plans.

"We have 20% of the cases because of the fact that we do much more testing. If we wouldn’t do testing, you wouldn’t have cases. You would have very few cases."

This is wrong. Testing reveals cases if they are there to be found. And sure, it’s true that countries vary in the number of tests they administer. But to compare apples to apples, a key yardstick is the percentage of tests that come back positive. Through much of July and into August, the U.S. had a positivity rate over 7%. It has come down to 5.8%, but that still puts it in the middle of the pack globally. Germany’s rate is 0.8%. The United Kingdom is at 1.3%.

We’ve rated that claim False and Pants on Fire, depending on how Trump has said it.

"Yesterday Dr. (Anthony) Fauci said that we were, we’ve done a really good job, and we didn’t mislead anybody. He came out with that statement, which I appreciate."

This is a mixed bag. After tape emerged of Trump telling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that he downplayed the virus, infectious-disease chief Anthony Fauci told Fox News that he "didn’t get the sense that he (Trump) was distorting anything."

But more recently, Fauci told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that he didn’t go along with Trump’s characterization that the country was "rounding the curve" with the coronavirus.

"I have to disagree with that because, if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they’re disturbing," Fauci said Sept. 11. "We’re plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day and the deaths are around 1,000."

"I didn’t say one way or the other" that Chinese President Xi Jinping was doing a good job handling the new coronavirus.

This is false. Trump said Feb. 23 that Xi "is doing a very good job."

On Feb. 18, Trump said Xi is "doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation." He said pretty much the same thing Feb. 10.

"If you look at Dr. Fauci’s original statement, you look at a lot of people, CDC, you look at a lot of people’s original statement, they said very strongly, George, don’t wear masks. Then all of a sudden they went to wear masks."

This needs context. Early on, Fauci said masks would not prevent all virus particles from going through, and that use of masks was more important for people already infected. Some of his comments came when the country faced a severe shortage of the N-95 masks used by health care workers. Given the shortage of masks, the general public ranked last behind doctors and nurses, and people who are infected, Fauci said.

"When we say you don't need to wear a mask, what we're really saying is make sure you prioritize it first for the people who need the mask," Fauci said in a March 27 interview. "In a perfect world, if you had all the masks you wanted, then you could get some degree of protection, but make sure you prioritize it well."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on masks on April 3 to recommend that nearly everyone wear a facial covering in public and in areas where social distancing isn’t possible.

"Joe Biden said I was xenophobic because I put the ban on, and I thought that was a very unfair, and by the way he’s totally taken that back."

It’s Mostly False that Biden called him xenophobic for issuing a travel ban, and it’s False that Biden has "taken that back," since Biden did not explicitly called the travel restrictions xenophobic. Trump in May claimed that Biden wrote a letter of apology, but we found no record of such a letter and neither Trump, the White House nor Trump’s reelection campaign substantiated the claim.

Says that after he announced travel restrictions in January, "Nancy Pelosi was standing in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco late, a month, more than a month after that, saying this thing’s totally exaggerated. Come, you know, to try and build up tourism."

This needs context. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged people to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown businesses in late February — at a time when there were no reports of active coronavirus cases in the city. There were 21 active cases in California, but they were in hospital isolation or in quarantine. 

The same day as Pelosi’s trip to Chinatown, Trump tweeted: "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA."

"We were short on ventilators because the cupboards were bare when we took it over."

This contradicts a statement from his own administration. 

"There is over 12,000, almost 13,000 ventilators that we have so that if communities, hospitals, other organizations need to have these ventilators, we can ship that out to them," Seema Verma, a member of the White House coronavirus task force said in early March during a CNN interview, according to a transcript

"The stockpile is there, and we hope that it is adequate," Verma said when asked if the administration had enough materials in its stockpile. 

We rated Mostly False Trump’s sweeping claim that the Obama administration left him a "stockpile with a cupboard that was bare." In April, during the first few months of the pandemic, we found that most states had procured enough ventilators to match the demand.

"They said at the Democrat convention they're going to do a national (mask) mandate. They never did it, because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it."

This is off target. In his nomination acceptance speech, Biden said, "We'll have a national mandate to wear a mask, not as a burden, but to protect each other."  We noted that current law makes it tough for the federal government to impose a mask mandate on the states. 

But Biden was talking about what he would do if he won. Trump’s criticism that "they never did it" ignores that Biden has no power to make that happen now.

Biden later acknowledged the limits on Washington’s power to mandate masks, and said "what I would be doing is putting as much pressure as I could on every governor" to implement mask requirements. 

Democrats "will get rid of preexisting conditions" protections.

Pants on Fire! Trump made a similar claim at a Sept. 10 rally in Michigan, saying Biden "will destroy your protections for preexisting conditions." That’s an inaccurate and ridiculous statement. Biden wants to keep the Affordable Care Act and its protections for people with preexisting conditions. 

Trump and Republicans for years have tried to get rid of the health care law, without an alternative that would maintain the same protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Speaking of Biden, "If you look at his policies, where he wants to raise everybody’s taxes."

This is False. Biden’s tax plan would raise taxes on corporations and people making over $400,000 a year. Analysts say some taxpayers below that threshold could see an impact to their incomes as the higher corporate tax ripples through the economy, but that dynamic is very different from a formal tax increase.. And tax models find that corporations and the wealthiest Americans will feel the greatest impact of Biden’s tax proposal.

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