Fact check: Coronavirus did not spread in the US because of an anti-Trump conspiracy

Fact check: Coronavirus did not spread in the US because of an anti-Trump conspiracy

The claim: The coronavirus outbreak in the United States is the result of a coordinated effort against President Donald Trump.

In a March 10 episode of the podcast “The NutriMedical Report,” commentator Josh Bernstein claimed the spread of COVID-19 in the United States was the result of a conspiracy between the Democratic Party and Chinese government.

“I believe that because Russia didn’t work, and Ukraine didn’t work, and impeachment didn’t work, they are so hell-bent on destroying this country (and) this president to gain back power that they probably worked with the Chinese government, and they devised this plan,” Bernstein said.

"The NutriMedical Report" is an alternative health podcast hosted by Dr. Bill Deagle, a former medical practitioner who promotes health products. He frequently hosts commentators on the podcast to discuss a range of issues including health, politics and current events.

During the episode, Bernstein also claimed Democrats and the Chinese government used the “medical deep state” to spread the virus among the American public to “scare the living daylights out of everybody to shut down the economy, to shut down the markets and to stop the Trump rallies.”

The view that political opponents of Trump are using the coronavirus pandemic for partisan ends has been echoed elsewhere in the media as well as by the president and his allies. The explicit claim that Democratic Party officials conspired with a foreign government – specifically, Beijing – to engineer a pandemic for political gain is, however, not supported by any available facts.

USA TODAY reached out to Bernstein and Deagle for comment but did not receive a response from either.

What experts say: COVID-19 is a novel disease that spread to the US through contagion.

Scientists broadly agree that COVID-19 began in or near Wuhan, China, in late 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the United States on Jan. 20 in Washington state.

Fact check:Coronavirus originated in China, not elsewhere, researchers and studies say

According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads like other respiratory viruses, through person-to-person contact as well as when a person coughs or sneezes. Those infected can carry the virus without showing symptoms, which makes them more likely to spread the disease without being diagnosed.

On March 16, English actor Idris Elba posted a video to social media saying he had tested positive for COVID-19. Though he hadn’t shown any symptoms, the actor “got tested because I realized I was exposed to someone who also tested positive.”

“Look, this is serious. Now is the time to really think about social distancing and washing your hands,” Elba said. “Beyond that, there are people out there who aren’t showing symptoms who can easily spread it.”

Tested positive: Idris Elba, 'Game of Thrones' star Kristofer Hivju

NBA player Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz likewise said recently that he is positive but not experiencing any symptoms.

When cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the U.S., widespread testing was not yet available to most Americans. As a result, it is difficult to map what areas are affected most by the virus, as well as what path COVID-19 has taken throughout the nation.

People wait for arriving passengers at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 in London on March 17, 2020.

While the CDC says transmission from people showing no signs of disease is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, early studies of COVID-19 outbreaks in other countries point to the possibility that "silent" transmission is underrated.

Without any intervention, viruses such as COVID-19 would be expected to spread exponentially. Early reported numbers of cases in China, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere reflect this exponential trend. That otherwise healthy people may unknowingly transfer the disease further explains how COVID-19 reached pandemic levels.

“The worst-case scenario is either you do nothing, or your mitigation and containments don’t succeed,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, who is helping spearhead the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.

Though the CDC projects that 40%-60% of the country could be infected by the virus, Fauci cautioned that “although that’s possible, it is unlikely if we do the kinds of things that we’re essentially outlining right now.”

Public health officials around the world are urging similar prevention measures. These include social distancing methods being urged or ordered throughout the United States, like shutting down bars, restaurants and gyms, as well as canceling any other mass gatherings of people.

President Donald Trump, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, speaks in the press briefing room at the White House on March 16, 2020.

On March 16, the White House issued additional social distancing recommendations that included avoiding groups of more than 10 people, cutting out nonessential travel and urging the closing of schools. The administration has recommended these measures for at least the next 15 days, but it's possible Americans could be advised to engage in social distancing well into the summer.

More:Social distancing through August? Trump suggests it may be needed

Without evidence to the contrary, there is no reason to conclude that the virus has spread with the assistance of government, political or corporate actors. Virologists and epidemiologists are confident viruses like COVID-19 can spread at an alarming rate without outside assistance.

Our ruling: False

We rate the claims on the podcast false because they lack any evidence and are not supported by our research. The consensus among experts points to the contagion theory of disease as the reason for COVID-19’s spread in the U.S., including the possibility that infected people without symptoms are spreading the virus to others.

Our fact-check sources:

Fact check: Coronavirus originated in China, not elsewhere, researchers and studies sayCDC: First Travel-related Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Detected in United StatesCDC: How COVID-19 Spreads@IdrisElba on Twitter, March 16, 2020Transcript, Dr. Anthony Fauci on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," March 15, 2020White House: Coronavirus Guidelines for America

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/17/fact-check-coronavirus-spread-not-anti-trump-conspiracy/5065736002/

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