Fact-checking Trump on coronavirus: No, scarves aren't 'better' than masks


There is no empirical evidence that a scarf provides better protection from airborne virus particles than a mask.

Donald Trump's lies and distortions haven't stopped as the number of COVID-19 cases grows and the death toll mounts.

Here are some of his latest claims, fact-checked for accuracy. 

April 2

"Some states are letting people out of prison. Some people are getting out that are very serious criminals in some states, and I don't like that. I don't like it." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump is correct that some states are releasing inmates from jails, as facilities remain at high risk for COVID-19 outbreaks.

But so far, they have not been "very serious criminals," as Trump alleged at Thursday's daily news conference.

In cities like New York and Los Angeles, those let out have been nonviolent offenders, some of whom were sentenced to less than a year in prison or were scheduled to be released in 30 days or less, the New York Times reported. New York City has released 900 inmates, while California plans to release 3,500 inmates earlier than anticipated, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In New Jersey, the 700 inmates who have been released were convicted of low-level crimes, according to another New York Times report.

Even the Trump administration is recommending that federal prisons release some prisoners to home confinement.

"In many cases the scarf is better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump was asked about whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were going to recommend everyone in the country wear masks in public — even amid a critical shortage of protective masks for health care providers. 

Trump said the CDC will not make it mandatory but suggested that if people cannot find masks  they use scarves to cover their face. Trump said a scarf may even be better than a mask at preventing the spread of the virus.

Doctors told CNBC that in the absence of a mask, a scarf could be a good option to protect against airborne virus droplets.

But unlike what Trump said, there is no "empirical evidence" that a scarf is better than a mask, CNBC reported.

"We are doing better than that. We are going to get a cash payment to the people, and we are working out the mechanics of that with legislatures. So we are going to try to get them a cash payment, because just opening it up doesn't help as much." — Trump at a White House news conference

The Trump administration has faced criticism for not offering a new enrollment period for Obamacare health care exchanges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each year, Americans can enroll in a health insurance plan during what's called the "Open Enrollment" period. If they miss out on that opportunity, Americans are unable to purchase insurance until the next enrollment period. 

Certain qualifying life events allow Americans to purchase insurance during the year, including losing a job, having a baby, or getting married. So the nearly 10 million people who have filed for unemployment benefits should be able to purchase insurance through Obamacare exchanges if they need to.

But some of the 27.9 million uninsured Americans may not fall into any of those categories and would have no health insurance if they were to need medical care for COVID-19. 

Time reported the story of Danni Askini, a woman who came down with COVID-19 and required  multiple hospital visits and tests during her treatment. Askini received a bill for $34,927.43 for the treatment.

Trump claimed that a special enrollment period wouldn't help as much as a cash payment to Americans, and he said he was working with state legislatures to get those cash payments out.

It's unclear what he's referring to. 

The relief bill Congress passed last week does offer cash payments of up to $1,200 to people who fall within a certain income level. 

But $1,200 would cover barely more than a fraction of an extended hospital stay in an intensive care unit for an uninsured person.

According to Healthcare.gov — the federal government's website with information on Obamacare — the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is $30,000 for people without insurance. 

April 1

"They are doing tests on airlines — very strong tests — for getting on and getting off. They're doing tests on trains — getting on, getting off." — Trump at a White House news conference

No evidence has yet surfaced that airlines and train services are testing passengers for COVID-19 when they get on and off. 

Generally speaking, testing for the virus itself is in short supply. And tests would not come back quickly enough to determine if a passenger can immediately board a train or aircraft. Doctors have said that test results take anywhere from 24 hours to as long as a week to come back, with some patients reporting that they waited even longer to receive results.

Amtrak, a national passenger railroad service, posted an advisory about the measures the company is taking to stop the spread of the virus, and testing passengers is not listed.

Major passenger airlines have not made any announcements saying they are testing passengers. United Airlines, for example, says it's doing extra thorough cleanings on its aircraft. Delta and American Airlines have said the same. But none have said they'll offer tests.

"After a month or so, I think once this passes, we're not going to have to be hopefully worried too much about the virus." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump's timeline for when coronavirus will pass has no basis in evidence.

A plan the federal government drew up in early March said the COVID-19 pandemic "will last 18 months or longer" — far longer than what Trump had said, the New York Times reported

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that social distancing measures can be relaxed once there are  "no new cases, no deaths at a period of time."

In New York alone, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that the peak of the virus — when the most new cases and deaths are expected — is one to three weeks away. After that, there will still be new cases and deaths, but health experts predict they will increase at a smaller rate until eventually leveling off.

Other states across the country are just starting to see the virus take hold, pushing their timelines far later than what Trump gave at Wednesday's briefing.

But the country still won't be out of the woods if the virus starts trending down before summer, with experts saying there will likely be "multiple waves." 

China is already grappling with this reality, with Hong Kong implementing new social distancing measures after the cases of COVID-19 started trending upward again, CNN reported.

"We didn't do that, that turned out to be a false story." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump was asked about why he is blaming former President Barack Obama for his own administration's coronavirus response, even though it took actions that exacerbated the outbreak — such as disbanding the National Security Council's pandemic unit in 2018.

Trump said it is a "false story" that he disbanded the unit and criticized the Fox News reporter who asked the question.

Yet, Trump did indeed disband the unit put in place to prepare for future pandemics, as multiple news outlets have reported. The head of the unit even wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post confirming it was disbanded, a move she said left her "mystified."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, also confirmed this when he testified at a congressional hearing on the coronavirus response on March 11.

"It would be nice if the office was still there," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, said at the hearing. 

"There are some states that don't have much of a problem." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump on Wednesday said he hasn't pushed for a national stay-at-home order because some states don't need it.

To date, every state and U.S. territory has reported COVID-19 cases, according to a New York Times database.

The Trump administration's surgeon general said earlier on Wednesday that the Trump administration's "30 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines should effectively serve as a national stay-at-home order for the 11 GOP-controlled states that haven't issued official demands for residents to stay home.

"My advice to America would be that these guidelines are a national stay-at-home order," Surgeon General Jeropme Adams told NBC's Savannah Guthrie.

Adams added that there is no national order because the federal government cannot force states to implement a stay-at-home policy. But he said  all Americans should stay home because of the "importance of social distancing."

March 31

"They're doing very well by comparison." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump was asked at Tuesday's daily news briefing what he'd tell states that haven't implemented strict social distancing measures.

When he was asked about Florida, whose Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted calls to implement stay-at-home orders, Trump responded by saying that Florida is "doing very well by comparison" to other states that have implemented orders, such as New Jersey, New York, and Washington state.

But Florida is seeing an outbreak.

According to data from Johns Hopkins, which is tracking COVID-19 cases, shows that the state now has the fifth most confirmed cases in the country, with 6,741 positive tests and 85 reported deaths. 

On Tuesday, the state reported 1,037 new COVID-19 cases — an ominous milestone, as it is the first time the state reported more than 1,000 new cases in a single day, according to Dr. Matt McCarthy, a hospitalist and professor Weill Cornell in New York.

Florida comes in falls behind four states — New York, New Jersey, California, and Michigan — that have issued stay-at-home orders

"This is not the flu." — Trump at a White House news conference

This is a marked change of position for Trump, who in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak downplayed the virus and compared it to the seasonal flu.

On March 9, as the stock market began to tumble and experts were calling for swift action to stop the spread of the virus, Trump said COVID-19 was not a big deal and that more people die of the flu than would die of complications from the novel coronavirus.

"So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!" Trump tweeted on March 9.

"What would've happened if we did nothing. Because there was a group that said, 'Let's just ride it out. Let's ride it out.' And what would've happened? And that number comes in at 1.5 to 1.6 million people, up to 2.2 and even beyond, so that's 2.2 million people would've died if we did nothing." — Trump at a White House news conference

While it's unclear what group advised Trump to "ride out" the virus, it's worth mentioning that Trump himself was very resistant early on to calls for stay-at-home orders, fearing that the economic impact of such orders would imperil his reelection chances.

He even claimed in February that the virus would "miraculously" go away by April. It is now April 1 and the virus has seen exponential growth in the United States.

In fact, Trump on Sunday announced that he wanted to reopen the country by Easter — which falls on April 12 — despite the fact that experts said that date was too early and could lead to more people dying. Trump has already reversed course, extending social distancing guidelines through at least the end of April.

The New York Times reported that Trump finally relented to keeping the guidelines in place when he was presented with numbers showing how many people would die if the country reopened too soon —  and how that would negatively impact his reelection chances.

March 30

"It's very much on par. … I know South Korea better than anybody. … Do you know how many people are in Seoul? Do you know how big the city of Seoul is? … 38 million people. That's bigger than anything we have." — Trump at a White House news conference

In trying to defend why the United States' per capita coronavirus testing does not match South Korea's, Trump botched the number of people living in the country’s largest city — despite claiming he knew the country "better than anybody."

The actual population of Seoul is 9.74 million, according to South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Ultimately, South Korea has done more testing per capita than the United States, despite Trump's claim that the per capita testing is "on par."

South Korea — which averted a disaster from COVID-19 without having to resort to the same extreme social distancing measures as the United States — conducted 154.7 tests per million people in the country, according to the Washington Post. (South Korea has a total population of 51.84 million, according to its Interior Ministry.)

Meanwhile, the United States had tested 894,000 people as of Saturday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and has a population of 329 million.

"It will go away, and I do want them to stay calm, and we are doing a great job. If you look at those individual statements, they're all true. 'Stay calm, it will go away,' you know it is going away, and it will go away, and we’re going to have a great victory. And it’s people like you and CNN that say things like that, that, it’s why people just don't want to listen to CNN anymore." — Trump at a White House news conference

CNN's Jim Acosta asked Trump why he downplayed the coronavirus in the early days, with Acosta reading off Trump’s statements that the virus would go away and wouldn't cause problems in the United States.

Trump claimed that his comments were true, insisting the virus will go away.

However, Trump's initial predictions that the virus would not take hold in the United States turned out to be false.

As of Tuesday, 163,575 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus, with the death toll standing at 3,073, according to the New York Times.

March 29

"They've been delivering for years 10,000 to 20,000 masks. OK it's a New York hospital, it's packed all the time. How do you go from 10,000 to 20,000 to 300,000 ... even though this is different? Something's going on, and you oughta look into it. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?" — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump on Sunday seemed to lay blame for the lack of personal protective equipment — such as masks and gowns for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals — on hospital staff.

There is no evidence that health care professionals are stealing PPE. 

In reality, the lack of proper protective gear may be to blame for at least one death in New York City. Earlier this month, Kious Kelly, a nurse manager at Mount Sinai West in Manhattan, died of COVID-19 after being placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit. His fellow nurses — who say they had resorted to wearing trash bags because of the lack of PPE — said they had been told to “reuse our masks, gowns and ... [face] shield[s],” due to a shortage of supplies. 

"We were told, 'You get one for the entire time until this is over,'" one nurse told the New York Post.

Trump is facing criticism from governors across the country, who say that he is not helping level the playing field for states to receive affordable PPE and other life-saving medical equipment. 

"I didn't say that. I didn’t say that. I didn't say that." — Trump at a White House news conference on previous comments he made saying he didn't "believe" New York needed more ventilators.

At Sunday's news conference, Trump lied and denied ever stating that New York doesn't actually need the 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has requested.

Trump said exactly that on Fox News host Sean Hannity's program three days earlier.

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers being said in some areas, they're just bigger than they’re going to be. I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators," Trump said on March 26.

Here's video of the March 26 remark:

"They're carrying out contracts to build ventilators, and they've started already." — Trump on General Motors at his press briefing.

This lie has been debunked numerous times.

While Trump claims that life-saving ventilators are in the works, General Motors told CNN's Daniel Dale over the weekend that the company is not yet producing ventilators. 

It takes time for companies to amend their production lines to make a totally new kind of device. Instead of starting this process weeks ago, Trump has dragged his feet on actually invoking the Defense Production Act, which allows a president to force companies to produce necessary equipment in war time. 

"If we can hold that down … to have between 100,000 and 200,000 we've all together done a very good job." — Trump on the rising number of COVID-19 deaths.

Trump over the weekend attempted to lower expectations regarding his administration's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explained that without any efforts, models showed there could be more than 2 million deaths, so if there were between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths that should be considered a win.

Of course, Trump had access to a pandemic preparation plan long ago that could have greatly reduced the number of expected deaths. According to Politico, the administration was briefed on the 69-page National Security Council playbook, titled "Playbook for early response to high consequence emerging infectious disease threats and biological incidents," back in 2017. However, according to the outlet, "it never went through a full, National Security Council-led interagency process to be approved as Trump administration strategy."

The 200,000 deaths experts have predicted might occur from the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak would be more than the Vietnam War (58,220 Americans), the Korean War (54,246 Americans), the Iraq War (4,431 Americans), and the war in Afghanistan (2,353 Americans), combined.

"Because the 'Ratings' of my News Conferences etc. are so high, 'Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers' according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. 'Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.' said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!" — Trump in a March 29 tweet.

Reporters at media outlets have begged television executives to stop airing Trump's daily coronavirus briefings in full, saying that they are exposing the public to Trump’s lies and distortions of the pandemic and doing a disservice to the country.

"These White House sessions — ostensibly meant to give the public critical and truthful information about this frightening crisis — are in fact working against that end," Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote in a column about why networks should stop airing the news conferences in full. "Rather, they have become a daily stage for Trump to play his greatest hits to captive audience members. They come in search of life-or-death information, but here’s what they get from him instead: Self-aggrandizement… Media-bashing… Exaggeration and outright lies."

This list will be updated throughout the week. Past fact checks can be found here.