Donald Trump Jr. falsely claimed on Fox News that COVID-19 deaths were down to "almost nothing" on the same day that the disease killed more than 1,000 people and cases hit a new record high.
Don Jr. tried to downplay the deadly pandemic spreading uncontrolled throughout most of the U.S. while complaining about Minnesota's decision to cap attendance at an upcoming Trump rally at 250 people.
"I put it up on my Instagram a couple days ago, 'cause I went through the CDC data. Because I kept hearing about new infections," he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday. "But I was like, 'Why aren't they talking about deaths?' Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing.'"
The comments drew harsh rebukes from medical professionals.
"Over 1,000 people died today," Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University School of Public Health tweeted. "That's not 'almost nothing' unless you believe that people you don't know are worthless."
More than 1,040 people died from the virus on Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, as the U.S. hit a record 88,500 new confirmed cases.
Alexis Madrigal of the COVID Tracking Project noted on Twitter that Don Jr.'s comments "may result from a common misinterpretation of CDC provisional death counts."
"The data for recent weeks is always incomplete, so recent weeks always decline. The CDC notes this in official charts," he wrote, adding that although "fatality rates are down," states have reported more than 700 deaths per day since mid-July.
Don Jr. went on to tout treatments like Remdesivir, which is has been limited only to the sickest patients and failed to prevent deaths from the virus in a recent large-scale study sponsored by the World Health Organization.
"We've gotten control of this thing," Don Jr. falsely claimed amid the highest nationwide spikes in infections yet. "We understand how it works. They have the therapeutics to be able to deal with this. If you look at that — look at my Instagram — it's gone to almost nothing. We're outperforming Europe in a positive way — so well, because we've gotten ahold of this."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, issued a stark warning debunking Don Jr.'s claim in a Wednesday interview with CNBC.
"We are on a very difficult trajectory. We're going in the wrong direction," Fauci said. "If things do not change — if they continue on the course we're on — there's going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases, and hospitalizations and deaths."
"Things are very, very bad in the United States right now," Dr. Ashish Jha, Brown University's dean of public health, told Reuters. "We are having some of the largest breakouts that we've had during the entire pandemic . . . And nine, 10 months into this pandemic, we are still largely not quite prepared."
President Donald Trump has also tried to downplay the threat posed by the virus as the U.S. enters its third wave of infections — by far largest — resulting in some of his tweets being labeled as "misinformation." His new top coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases who has pushed the discredited and unethical "herd immunity" strategy, has also been forced to remove tweets labeled as misinformation. Dr. Deborah Birx, who had taken a leading role in the coronavirus task force, has refused to participate in meetings with Atlas, whose dubious claims are often parroted by Trump, because of his "misleading" claims, according to CNN.
While Trump and his allies have tried to downplay the pandemic, which he has mismanaged since the beginning, in an apparent effort to win over voters ahead of next week's election, the rhetoric and lack of response to the uncontrolled outbreaks in the Midwest and elsewhere may be having the opposite effect.
"COVID has had a huge impact here in Wisconsin and the county I live in. I just bought a farm and am struggling to keep my animals fed and keep the farm going well," Teri Leschner, a resident of Sharon, Wisconsin, told the outlet. "Trump, I feel, has lied to us all. He said he cares about the smaller family farmers, but we have not seen any help nor caring."
Rich Thau of the Swing Voter Project, which polls voters monthly in key states, estimated that about 25% of former Obama voters who backed Trump in 2016 would vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden this time around.
"Most are doing it based upon dissatisfaction with the president's handling of the pandemic," he told The Daily Beast, "not out of a particular fondness for Biden himself."