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White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks to reporters about the coronavirus at the White House on April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Vucci) White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks to reporters about the coronavirus at the White House on April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks to reporters about the coronavirus at the White House on April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy April 15, 2020

Kellyanne Conway misleads on name for COVID-19, says it’s ‘not COVID-1’

If Your Time is short

  • Conway suggested that the World Health Organization should have been on top of the novel coronavirus earlier on because “this is COVID-19, not COVID-1.”

  • COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease 2019” — reflecting the year in which the disease was first identified.

  • Conway later said on Twitter that she knows why the disease is named as such.

In a swipe at the World Health Organization, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made a misleading claim about COVID-19, implying that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus was so named because it’s the latest in a string of similar coronaviruses. 

"Some of the scientists and doctors say there could be other strains later on, this could come back in the fall in a limited way," Conway said in an April 15 "Fox & Friends" interview. "This is COVID-19, not COVID-1, folks. And so you would think that people charged with the World Health Organization facts and figures would be on top of that."

"People should know the facts," she added.

The comment came one day after President Donald Trump announced his intention to halt U.S. funding to the WHO and review its handling of the virus. 

But the name of the disease doesn’t mean the WHO had 18 chances to learn about coronaviruses before the latest strain hit. 

COVID-19 is short for "coronavirus disease 2019," a name that reflects the year in which the disease was first identified. The WHO announced the name on Feb. 11.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "CO" stands for "corona," "VI" stands for "virus," and "D" stands for "disease." Before the WHO formalized a name for the disease, it was referred to as the "2019 novel coronavirus" or "2019-nCoV."

The virus itself, by contrast, is known as "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" and abbreviated as "SARS-CoV-2," according to the WHO. The CDC lists seven coronaviruses that are known to infect humans, some of which are relatively common.

Conway was clearer about the origins of "COVID-19" during a separate interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo roughly 30 minutes after her comment on "Fox & Friends."

Featured Fact-check

"It’s called COVID-19 because that’s the year, that’s the year," Conway said while ripping the WHO’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. "It’s not COVID-20. It’s COVID-19."

Facing blowback for her "Fox & Friends" comment, Conway tweeted the clip from her interview with Bartiromo. She said she knows "19 refers to (the) year," but that she was making the point that the WHO "should see pandemics coming" because of the funding it gets from the U.S. 

In a statement to PolitiFact, a White House official said Conway is "well aware that ‘19’ refers to the year" and that she attends meetings held by the White House’s coronavirus task force. 

Conway was addressing "the sheer number of years the U.S. has given billions and billions of dollars to WHO and were failed by them," the White House said, adding that in each of her April 15 interviews, she said the WHO’s job is to anticipate infectious disease pandemics.

"Kellyanne never mentioned ‘18 other coronaviruses,’" the White House said.

Our ruling

Conway said, "This is COVID-19, not COVID-1," arguing that the WHO should have been better prepared to deal with the virus. 

"People should know the facts," she added.

We agree. The name of the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, doesn’t mean it’s the 19th in a series of similar coronaviruses. The 19 refers to the year it was discovered, 2019. 

Conway made the claim with a straight-face, but she later said she knew what the name meant.

We rate her original statement False.

Our Sources

Fox News on YouTube, "Kellyanne Conway breaks down Trump's plan to reopen America," April 15, 2020

Fox Business, "Trump is the best person to 'rejuice' the economy: Kellyanne Conway," April 15, 2020

Kellyanne Conway on Twitter, April 15, 2020

Kellyanne Conway on Twitter, April 15, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed April 15, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Human Coronavirus Types," accessed April 15, 2020

The World Health Organization, "Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it," accessed April 15, 2020

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump in Press Briefing," April 14, 2020

World Health Organization on Twitter, Feb. 11, 2020

Statement from the White House, April 15, 2020

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More by Bill McCarthy

Kellyanne Conway misleads on name for COVID-19, says it’s ‘not COVID-1’

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