GOP Sen. Joni Ernst pushes false claim that coronavirus death toll is faked

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Ernst gave credence to a QAnon-pushed conspiracy theory that falsely claims the coronavirus death toll is just 10,000.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said she is "so skeptical" of the reported coronavirus death toll, a local Iowa political blog reported, adding that she believes doctors are purposefully over-reporting the number of virus cases to get money for treating patients, a local Iowa political blog reported.

"They're thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19," Ernst said Monday at an event in Iowa — pushing a discredited theory popularized by supporters of QAnon, a group of conspiracy theorists who believe, among other things, that Donald Trump is fighting against a ring of Democratic pedophiles. "I'm just really curious. It would be interesting to know that."

Ernst added, "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?"

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Trump himself has pushed this fake conspiracy theory, saying in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham that "only 6%" of the more than 181,000 people who have died from the coronavirus in the United States "actually died from COVID."

Both the claim that the coronavirus death toll is far lower than the more than 184,000 deaths from the virus in the United States, and that doctors are fraudulently reporting more coronavirus cases in order to receive money, have been debunked.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert and member of Trump's coronavirus task force, said the conspiracy theory about over reported coronavirus deaths is false.

"The numbers you've been hearing, the 180,000+ deaths, are real deaths from COVID-19. Let there not be any confusion about that," Fauci said on Tuesday. "It's not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It's 180+ thousand deaths."

FactCheck.org also debunked the claim Ernst made that doctors are fraudulently reporting more coronavirus cases to get more money out of Medicare, a fake conspiracy theory that's been around since April, spread by a Minnesota state legislator making the claim on Fox News.

Theresa Greenfield, Ernst's Democratic opponent, slammed Ernst for pushing debunked conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

"It's appalling for you to say you're 'so skeptical' of the toll this pandemic has on our families and communities across Iowa," Greenfield tweeted late Tuesday night. "We need leaders who will take this seriously."

Ernst is one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection in November.

Polls show the race is virtually tied.

Inside Elections, a nonpartisan political handicapping outlet, rates the race a toss-up.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.