This past Friday, President Donald Trump expressed surprise upon learning that people die from seasonal flu. (In fact, it killed his grandfather.) Fox News figures have similarly downplayed the dangers of coronavirus by comparing it to the deaths that occur from the flu.
There is also an extra layer of uncertainty, as mortality estimates still vary because of uncertainties about the number of people tested for COVID-19 and the population who might have had mild cases but were never tested.
All told, the United States could be looking at a genuine epidemic on the scale of what is now going on in Italy.
On March 6, Fox News chief medical correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel told Sean Hannity that “at worst, at worst, worst case scenario it could be the flu.”
On Saturday night, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro boldly declared that “all the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn’t reflect reality.”
JEANINE PIRRO (HOST): Now, they say the mortality rate for coronavirus is higher than a flu. But consider though, that we have a flu vaccine, and yet in 2019, 16,000 Americans died from the flu. Imagine if we did not have the flu vaccine, the flu would be a pandemic.
So all the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn't reflect reality. Without a vaccine, the flu would be far more deadly.
Of course, there are flu vaccines every year — while there is no coronavirus vaccine yet available to the public, which could take over a year to be tested for safety before it is released on a wide scale.
Trump dug in on Monday with a tweet seeming to bemoan a double standard that the country doesn’t shut down over the flu, compared to what is going on now with the coronavirus.
Interestingly, Trump’s tweet came just six minutes after his own secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, appeared on Fox and publicly declared: “This is a very serious health problem. Nobody is trying to minimize that.”
On Monday’s edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox Business anchor David Asman said there was “nothing you can argue with” about Trump’s tweet, and praised his leadership on the economy as having created a “strong foundation” for the country to pull through, calling it “a rainy day fund.”
And during his Tuesday night show, Sean Hannity downplayed coronavirus fatalities compared to gun violence in Chicago and also invoked mortality statistics for the seasonal flu in on-screen graphics — but noted that “by the way, still, any deaths are tragic.” Later in the segment, he decried the “politicization of coronavirus” and asked for viewers to consider their “perspective” on the potential pandemic.
But during an appearance later on Hannity’s show, the renowned virologist and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci explained why the Fox prime-time host was wrong:
Fittingly enough, Hannity had earlier referred to Fauci as “the adult in the room,” while promoting his appearance on the show.
And speaking of an adult in a room, on Wednesday morning’s America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Sandra Smith conducted an interview via Skype with American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp, who has been staying at home since his exposure to an unnamed individual at the group’s recent Conservative Political Action Conference who later tested positive for COVID-19.
And with that organization now working to contain the political fallout, Schlapp’s pronouncements clearly crossed the line between cautious optimism and vigilance on one side and Pollyanaism on the other, contradicting the express warnings of medical experts.
This is particularly dangerous misinformation to be spreading, given the lack of testing in the United States thus far.