WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows Monday defended President Donald Trump's claim that 99% percent of coronavirus cases are "harmless" - an assertion at odds with a wide array of data on death rates, hospitalizations and studies on the impact of the disease.
Trump has downplayed the disease even as governors across the country have halted reopenings of their states in an effort to stem a surge in cases.
Asked on Fox & Friends about Trump's claim that 99% of coronavirus cases were "harmless," Meadows responded: "when you look start to look at the stats and all the numbers that we have, the amount of testing that we have, the vast majority of people are safe from this."
"Outside of comorbidities" like diabetes or hypertension, he added, the "risks are extremely low and the president’s right with that, and the facts and the statistics back us up there," he said.
More than 129,000 Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country.
The fatality rate, or deaths divided by confirmed cases, is 4.5%, according to Johns Hopkins, though the death rate could vary and could be lower if cases are undercounted due to lack of testing. Over 38,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, according to the COVID Tracking Project's seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations.
The rise in cases in Texas has left officials worried about the availability of intensive-care units. Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the Austin American-Statesman of the USA TODAY Network that Austin-area intensive care units could be overrun in the next two weeks if cases continue to climb in the region.
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Large numbers of Americans have comorbidities that put them at higher risk for severe coronavirus cases. The CDC says over 100 million Americans live with diabetes or prediabetes, and nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure. The prevalence of such conditions is higher in racial minority groups, which have disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
Stephen Ferrara, associate dean of clinical affairs at Columbia University, called Meadows' comments "dangerous," writing on Twitter that administration officials were "downplaying & intentional misleading of a public health crisis."
Neera Tanden, the president of progressive think tank the Center for American Progress who had been infected with the coronavirus earlier this year, said, "this messaging will kill people."
The Democratic National Committee quickly posted the clip, calling it a "dangerous and absurd lie" by Trump about the death rate.
During his July 4 speech at the White House, Trump had claimed "99%" of coronavirus cases "are totally harmless."
In television interviews the following day, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn declined to comment on Trump's remarks.
And in a Monday interview with "CBS This Morning," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican who tested positive for the coronavirus in March, said Trump's comments "did not line up" with what he was seeing in Miami, and he "wouldn't go that far" to describe as many cases as "harmless."
More:FDA commissioner refuses to comment on Trump's claim that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are 'harmless'
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Asked in the same interview whether the Trump campaign should have taken more precautions at their rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ahead of another planned rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire this Saturday, Meadows said, "we have not seen major outbreaks with the Tulsa event...we allow that freedom to take place and certainly want to encourage that going forward."
Several Trump campaign staffers and employees of the Secret Service tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the Tulsa rally, which gathered supporters in an indoor arena in the city's downtown over the objections of local health officials.
Since then, top campaign finance official Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is also Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, and Black Voices for Trump co-chair Herman Cain have also tested positive for the coronavirus. Both officials attended the Tulsa rally.
The Trump campaign said attendees at its Portsmouth rally would have "ample access to hand sanitizer," face masks would be provided, and the wearing of the masks would be encouraged.
Disposable surgical masks and hand sanitizer bottles were also provided at the rally in Tulsa, but few participants opted to wear the masks.