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Ernst says she's 'skeptical' about coronavirus death count

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden Poll finds Ernst with 1-point lead in Iowa Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave MORE (R-Iowa) said during an event Monday that she is “so skeptical” about the United States' total COVID-19 death count, which has reached beyond 184,000 fatalities.

A man at the senator’s Waterloo, Iowa, campaign event, who said he believed the U.S. coronavirus death toll has been overcounted, prompted her to respond that she too was “so skeptical,” the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported

“These health-care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” she asked the crowd. 

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The Iowa Republican’s remarks doubting the coronavirus death toll reflects conspiracy theories promoted by proponents of QAnon that public health experts have railed against as untrue, The Washington Post noted. Medical experts have repeatedly said they believe the death toll is actually undercounted, because many local governments do not have the capacity to measure deaths in real time. 

Ernst detailed her comments further in an interview with the Courier, saying doctors and medical workers “do get reimbursed higher amounts if it’s a COVID-related illness or disease.”

“I heard the same thing on the news,” she added. “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19. ... I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Medicaid offers a 20 percent increase in payments for COVID-19 patients that is meant to cover the additional cost of treating those who have contracted the virus, the Post reported.

"Over 180,000 Americans have died because of COVID-19," the senator said in a statement to The Hill.

"What matters is that we are getting the resources to Iowa that are needed to fight this virus, and that's what I'm focused on," she added.

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The U.S. has more than 6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, leading to at least 184,697 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The QAnon conspiracy theory that cases are being overcounted distorts a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found coronavirus was the only contributing factor in 6 percent of deaths. 

The other 94 percent of fatalities had at least one other contributing factor, but those deaths still count toward the COVID-19 death toll because the coronavirus contributed to them.

Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield, who is running against Ernst in a tight race, called the remarks “appalling.”

“We need leaders who will take this seriously,” she posted on Twitter.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE retweeted a conspiracy theory last week that claimed only 9,000 people “actually” died from coronavirus, but Twitter took down the tweet for spreading misinformation.

Iowa is currently considered one of the epicenters for the coronavirus in the U.S., as the state has experienced an almost 84 percent increase in cases and 25 percent increase in deaths in the past week, the Post noted. 

--Updated at 10:29 a.m.