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WaPost fact-checker knocks McAuliffe for statements 'inflating' Virginia coronavirus numbers

A Washington Post fact check shot down repeated claims from Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe about the state's coronavirus case figures.

The newspaper quoted the former governor on Tuesday as making exaggerated claims about Virginia's case counts, including among children, on four occasions during the last month.

The most recent came Oct. 23, when McAuliffe said during an event at Virginia Commonwealth University that "1,142 of our children have been in hospitals because they got COVID."

The Post noted that the state had reported fewer than 1,000 hospitalizations among children from March 2020 at the start of the pandemic through mid-October. 

The newspaper said it contacted McAuliffe's campaign after his first statement inflating hospitalization figures among children, which he made after similar comments in late September and again on Oct. 8.

"Just this week, 8,000 cases on Monday in Virginia. We in Virginia today, 1,142 children are in ICU beds," McAuliffe said on Oct. 8.

The McAuliffe campaign told the Post the Democrat had simply misspoken after that instance, so Post fact checkers decided against issuing a rebuke of his assertion.

"But then his tongue kept slipping," lead fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote Tuesday.

There has not been a single day since January when a combination of confirmed and probable cases in Virginia got close to 8,000, the Post reported.

"Nevertheless, the McAuliffe campaign came back with what appeared to be a plausible explanation," Kessler wrote. "During the [late September] debate, he was speaking on a Tuesday and a spokesman said he was referring to the weekend numbers released the day before. The new caseload between Friday morning and Monday morning was 7,987 on Sept. 27 and 7,762 on Oct. 4."

"We can understand the occasional misspeak, especially in the heat of a campaign," Kessler added, noting the Post generally does not award "Pinocchios" when a politician admits an error or misspeaking.

"But this has happened too many times for McAuliffe's language to be an accident," Kessler concluded in the fact check, awarding the former governor four Pinocchios for his repeated pushing of the claim.

"He repeatedly mentions a weekend number for cases, but suggests it's a one-day figure. He offers wildly inflated figures for child hospitalizations, suggesting again that these were daily figures and claiming twice that these many children were in ICUs. Instead, he appears to be citing a figure for all of the children hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia over the past 19 months - which is still inflated."

The Post endorsed McAuliffe last month, a fact he has touted in advertisements and on the campaign trail. McAuliffe has repeatedly painted his GOP challenger, businessman Glenn Youngkin, as anti-vaccine and resistant to science-based public health measures during the pandemic.

Youngkin has said he is opposed to vaccine mandates, but has encouraged Virginians to get vaccinated.

Over the summer, the Post also hit McAuliffe with four Pinocchios for suggesting Republicans in Virginia were responsible for the budget deficit he inherited when he previously served as the state's executive leader.

The McAuliffe campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Post's fact check.

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