Sinclair Broadcast Group national correspondent Kristine Frazao pushed President Donald Trump’s lie that 99% of coronavirus infections “are totally harmless” in her July 5 report. Her report aired on at least 53 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 35 states, including Texas, Florida, and California, which she identified as experiencing “record infection rates.”
As of July 7, nearly 3 million people in the United States have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and more than 130,000 people in this country have died. According to The New York Times, at least 40 states and U.S. territories have been experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases in the past two weeks. The pandemic is so out of control that Republican state governors who resisted facemask requirements are now finally mandating them in most cases or allowing local governments to do so. Some states are also reimposing restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, Trump has continued to downplay the pandemic. The White House is blocking most interview requests for members of its coronavirus task force, and NBC News has reported on a new Trump administration strategy: Convince Americans there’s nothing the administration can do to stop the spread of the coronavirus and tell them they just have to “live with it.” Perhaps as part of that strategy, Trump’s July 4 remarks contained “a mystifying -- and dangerously misleading claim,” as CNN described it, that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless.”
A July 5 Sinclair report that aired on more than 50 TV stations in nearly three dozen states highlighted complaints about coronavirus restrictions as the pandemic grows worse. In the report, Frazao aired a video clip of Trump’s July 4 remark, noting that “some are now disputing what he said,” but she failed to include anyone calling out Trump’s lie or provide facts that prove his statement wrong.
Multiple fact-checking and news organizations have debunked Trump’s lie.
FactCheck.org quoted Columbia University epidemiologist Stephen Morse, who explained that some people who recovered from COVID-19 have reported experiencing long-term effects, “including lung damage.” FactCheck.org also noted that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data through May 30 showed “14% of confirmed coronavirus cases led to hospitalizations -- including 2% in intensive care units.”
PolitiFact quoted Boston University global health professor Donald Thea, who said of Trump’s claim, “To cavalierly say that only 1% of infections result in problems is wildly inaccurate. … We are seeing reports of young people who have recovered from mild cases developing diabetes or blood clots and suffering from chronic fatigue, respiratory compromise, persistent fever or coming back with bacterial sepsis weeks later. There's too many reports of other organ damage that hints that there are possible long term serious implications.”
On MSNBC, NBC News medical correspondent John Torres also debunked Trump’s claim by pointing to hospitalization rates: “Around 20% of people who do test positive for coronavirus, or have coronavirus, end up in the hospital. Of those, around 20% end up in the ICU. And we know a portion of those end up with long-term issues, respiratory issues, neurological issues, other issues they have. Some of these they’re probably going to carry with them for the rest of their lives. So to say it’s harmless, that is far from the fact.”
The Associated Press reported that Trump “is understating the danger of the coronavirus to people who get it,” and his claim “does not reflect the suffering of millions of COVID-19 patients.” Its fact check continued: “The World Health Organization, for one, has said about 20% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 progress to severe disease, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. Whatever the numbers turn out to be, it's clear that the threat is not limited to the merest sliver of those who get the disease.”
And The New York Times stated, “No matter how you define harmless, most public health experts and respected coronavirus disease models would flatly contradict Mr. Trump’s assessment.” The Times outlined some of the numerous long-term problems faced by some people who have survived COVID-19:
In addition to hospitalization, another consideration that would complicate what defines harmlessness is the long-term implication for so many who have recovered or are still struggling to regain their pre-Covid lives.
Patients fortunate enough to survive a lengthy hospitalization and weeks in an intensive care unit or on a ventilator face a long road to recovery. Many will suffer debilitating long-term effects, including impaired lung function, neurological problems and cognitive deficits, and some may require lifelong care and not regain full independence.
Some patients have prolonged courses of illness, with fevers and weakness that lasts for weeks on end; the disease has also been linked to strokes that can be disabling, and much about how the disease affects the immune system long term is still unknown. Residual symptoms such as continuing shortness of breath, muscle weakness, flashbacks and mental fogginess can persist for some time.
“We don’t fully appreciate the long-term consequences of having Covid, even mild and moderate forms of Covid that were never admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. Thomas McGinn, the deputy physician in chief at Northwell Health and director of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, who is studying the disease’s long-term effects.
“Are there lingering effects lasting three months, six months, a year or longer? The question of what percent have long-term consequences, and the severity of the consequences, are unclear,” Dr. McGinn said. “We’ve definitely seen people who have lung scarring and gone home with fibrotic changes in their lungs who have continued difficulty with breathing. And there are people who three months out have lingering changes with their sense of taste and smell. That’s not a small problem. People depend on smell and taste to enjoy life.”
Frazao’s report has the potential to do real harm because she failed to include any rebuttal to Trump's lie. If any Sinclair television viewers who saw her report believed the president when he said coronavirus is almost entirely harmless, they might disregard safety precautions and get themselves or others sick.
Sinclair has been pushing dangerous coronavirus misinformation on its stations for a while now. In April, multiple news reports from Sinclair national correspondents, which were aired in dozens of states around the country, amplified protests against social distancing measures without including warnings from public health experts of the consequences of ending them too soon -- consequences we’re seeing today. America This Week host Eric Bolling pushed right-wing talking points and conspiracy theories about the pandemic through his Sinclair platform, which included dismissing its characterization as a “crisis” and mocking the idea that the death toll could surpass 50,000 people. And Sharyl Attkisson on her Sinclair program Full Measure pushed the disputed use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment while downplaying the risk of death associated with its use.