GOP candidate: AIDS and the flu are worse than COVID-19

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North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has previously downplayed the virus and criticized social distancing rules.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the current Republican nominee for governor, dismissed the COVID-19 pandemic as less deadly than HIV/AIDS and influenza on Saturday.

In a Facebook Live discussion with the NC Federation of Young Republicans, Forest claimed, "We've still had more deaths to the flu this year than we have had COVID-19. There's been about three times more deaths for HIV/AIDS. Remember, that was a pandemic at one time, and it still has no vaccine."

Forest urged viewers to "keep them all in perspective."

The video was first flagged by American Bridge, a progressive opposition research group.

Donald Trump made a similar argument in March, pointing out that the "CoronaVirus" had caused far fewer deaths at that point than the "37,000 Americans" who "died from the common flu last year." But seven weeks later, COVID-19 deaths had already surpassed that total.

Since the first coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. — now believed to have been in early February — more than 52,000 Americans have died from the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between Oct. 1 of last year and April 4 of this year, there have been somewhere between 24,000 and 62,000 flu deaths. The current death toll from COVID-19 is over twice as high as the low end of this range, with five months left in the current flu season.

The CDC also reported that in 2017 — the most recent available year for data — there were 16,350 deaths among all people diagnosed with HIV. That total, the agency noted, included deaths "due to any cause." While there is no vaccine, medications can reduce the chances of getting HIV from sex by 99% and can significantly help protect the health of people with the virus.

While it is impossible to know how many Americans will die of COVID-19, some estimates suggest it is America's current leading cause of death. In the past week, the nation's death toll climbed from 35,784 to 49,161 — a weekly total of more than 13,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

This is not the first time Forest has downplayed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, he criticized Gov. Roy Cooper's order to close down bars and restaurants, claiming the move would "devastate our economy, shutter many small businesses, and leave many people unemployed, especially in the rural areas of our state."

Instead, Forest said, "We should allow those economies [in counties without confirmed COVID-19 cases] to still flourish."

North Carolina has reported at least 9,142 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 300 deaths to date. People have tested positive in at least 95 of the state's 100 counties.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.