Study Finds Trump Is the Leading Source of COVID-19 Misinformation

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on his way to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on September 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Minnesota for a fundraising event and a campaign rally. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Emiene Wright

October 9, 2020

Thirty-eight percent of the over 1 million articles with coronavirus misinformation featured the president.

Just days after going to Walter Reed Medical Center to be treated for COVID-19, President Donald Trump has returned to making misleading claims about the disease, painting it as similar to the flu and downplaying the seriousness of infection. These patently false claims are the driving force behind conclusions of a new study that found Trump to be the greatest common denominator in misinformation around the pandemic.   

“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” the president tweeted on Monday. “Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”

In 2018, 61,000 people died from the flu, far short of the president’s claim of over 100,000 deaths. Twitter flagged the post as violating rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19, but left it accessible for public record. The tweet is similar to another Trump tweet from March, when he appeared to inflate the flu mortality rate.

Meanwhile, the US death toll from the coronavirus crossed 200,000 in September, as the president spent time contradicting his disease experts, pushing conspiracy theories and casting doubt on the effectiveness of masks.

Cornell University researchers found that in the first months of 2020, Trump was the greatest amplifier of misinformation about COVID-19. Researchers reviewed over 38 million articles published between January and May 26, and found over 1 million included some COVID-19 misinformation. 

Of those inaccurate articles, 38 percent featured Trump and a misleading claim the president espoused or a reference to his fondness for spreading unproven theories. The Cornell study found “miracle cures” to be the most common type of misinformation. Trump has repeatedly promoted drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, which has no proven effectiveness against the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, the president was taking an experimental therapy to fight COVID-19 as part of a medical regimen that includes other drugs. REGN-COV2, made by the biotechnology company Regeneron, has only been in clinical trials since June and the results have not been peer reviewed. REGN-COV2 has not been approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor has it received an emergency use authorization. The company confirmed that it provided the drug under a “compassionate use” request.

Meanwhile, the death rate for average Americans is expected to take a turn for the worse as temperatures drop. And with flu season on the way, things may get exponentially worse. Catching one of the viruses can make you more vulnerable to the other, according to epidemiologists, and it is possible to get them both simultaneously.

“Your defenses go down, and it makes you vulnerable to getting a second infection on top of that,” Dr. Seema Yasmin, director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, told CNN. “Your defenses go down, and you’re more vulnerable to getting a second infection.”

And getting doubly infected with the flu and Covid-19 at the same time “could be catastrophic to your immune system,” said Dr. Adrian Burrowes, a family medicine physician in Florida.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected a December death toll of up to 2,900 a day. As a vaccine probably won’t be publicly available until mid-2021, experts are suggesting spending as much time outside, where air can circulate freely; continuing to wear masks; and exercising caution during holiday visits with friends and family. 


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