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White House chief of staff defends Trump's 99 percent COVID-19 comments

White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Trump tests negative for COVID-19 on day of debate The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight MORE said Monday that the “vast majority” of Americans are safe from the novel coronavirus and defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE’s remark that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless.”

Meadows, appearing on “Fox & Friends,” said Trump’s remarks were supported by statistics, though he didn’t cite specific numbers.

“I don’t even know that it’s a generalization,” Meadows said when asked about the president’s comment over the weekend. “When you start to look at all the [statistics] and all the numbers that we have, the amount of testing that we have, the vast majority of people are safe from this.”

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Nearly 2.9 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and nearly 130,000 have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

That would lead to a death rate well above 1 percent, to say nothing of those cases that result in people becoming gravely ill. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said last month, however, that coronavirus infections could be 10 times higher than the number actually reported. As a result, some believe the death rate in the U.S. is much lower. 

The top White House official said that those who are elderly or have comorbidities need to be “very careful” but said the risk was low otherwise.

“If you’re over 80 years of age or you have three what you call comorbidities diabetes, hypertension, heart issues then you need to be very, very careful,” Meadows continued. “Outside of that, the risks are extremely low and the president is right on that, and the facts and the statistics back us up there.”

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Trump, who has downplayed recent spikes in coronavirus cases, has been scrutinized for saying during his Fourth of July address that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless.”

“Likewise, testing — there were no tests for a new virus, but now we have tested over 40 million people,” Trump said during his remarks at the White House “Salute to America” event. “But by so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country will show, because no other country has testing that we have — not in terms of the numbers or in terms of the quality.”

Trump’s remark glossed over the significant number of people who have been hospitalized with the virus or otherwise experienced adverse health effects. An estimated one-third of coronavirus patients are asymptomatic, according to the CDC.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn declined to comment on the accuracy of the president’s claim when pressed Sunday but urged Americans to follow federal guidelines in order to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.

“We absolutely must take this seriously. We must institute these public health measures. We cannot back off from those,” Hahn said on CNN. “It is critically important for Americans to follow those guidelines and to protect the most vulnerable.”

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White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also defended the president’s remarks during a separate appearance on Fox News Monday morning. She said that he was making a “factual point” that the majority of Americans who contract the coronavirus will recover from it.

“The president was making a factual point that most people will recover from coronavirus who get it. That this very small fraction of people fall victim to coronavirus in a fatal way,” McEnany said, noting that the mortality rate in the U.S. is lower than that in other countries.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday came as cases have surged in a number of states, prompting states like Texas, Florida and California to roll back their reopening efforts.