In accepting the Republican Party nomination Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence accurately recounted the history of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, and how a failed British bombardment in 1814 helped inspire Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Pence’s claims about the Trump administration as well as his attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, on the other hand, were sometimes misleading, incomplete or wrong.
As the number of Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 neared 180,000, he spent part of his speech recasting the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus response, offering sympathy to “the families who have lost loved ones and have family members still struggling with serious illness” and saluting the “doctors, nurses, first responders, factory workers, truckers and everyday Americans, who put the health and safety of their neighbors first.” He optimistically reported that the U.S. is “on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year.” His live audience was mostly unmasked.
Our partners at PolitiFact did a wide-ranging fact check on Pence’s complete speech. Here are the highlights related to the administration’s COVID-19 response:
“President Trump marshaled the full resources of our federal government [to deal with the coronavirus] from the outset. He directed us to forge a seamless partnership with governors across America in both political parties.”
Revisionist history. After declaring a national emergency over the health crisis on March 13, Trump directed governors to order their own ventilators, respirators and supplies, saying the federal government is “not a shipping clerk.” Governors say the disjointed response left states bidding against one another and the federal government for access to critical equipment.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was akin to competing on eBay with all the other states plus the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, pleaded for better coordination to ensure that supplies were distributed based on need.
As late as July, some governors were calling on the feds for help and not getting what they needed. There were shortages of testing supplies, as well as personal protection gear. Washington state asked for 4.2 million N95 face masks. It received a bit under 500,000. It asked for about 300,000 surgical gowns. It got about 160,000.
“Before the first case of the coronavirus spread within the United States, the president took unprecedented action and suspended all travel from China.”
Pence’s timeline is wrong, and Trump didn’t ban “all” travel from China; there were exemptions.
Here’s the correct timeline:
- Jan. 21: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case of the new coronavirus, a patient in Washington state who had traveled from Wuhan, China.
- Jan. 30: The CDC confirmed the first instance of person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus in the United States. It involved a couple in Illinois, one spouse who had traveled to Wuhan and one who had not traveled.
- Jan. 31: The Trump administration announced a ban on travelers from China, exempting a number of categories of people, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. It took effect Feb. 2. Trump’s proclamation acknowledged that the virus “has spread between two people in the United States, representing the first instance of person-to-person transmission of the virus within the United States.”
According to The New York Times, about 40,000 people traveled from China to the United States in the two months after Trump announced travel restrictions, and 60% of people on direct flights from China were not U.S. citizens.
“As we speak, we’re developing a growing number of treatments, known as therapeutics, including convalescent plasma, that are saving lives all across the country.”
This requires context. Days before Pence’s speech, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. This treatment involves isolating COVID-19 antibodies from the plasma of people who have recently recovered from the virus and injecting the antibodies into patients in the early stages of the illness.
Although the Trump administration has said this treatment shows encouraging early findings, the data they shared was based on a Mayo Clinic preliminary analysis that has not been peer-reviewed. Clinicians and researchers have urged caution, maintaining that more research is necessary before a survival benefit is proven. They also question the timing of the authorization — which came on the eve of the Republican convention.
Before Pence Took the Mic
Throughout the evening, speakers referred to the novel coronavirus as “the China virus” or something the “Chinese communist regime unleashed on the world.” Kellyanne Conway, a former special adviser to the president, commended Trump for “taking unprecedented action to combat this nation’s drug crisis.” Our PolitiFact partners fact-checked a range of these statements. Here’s one related to health policy:
“I can tell you that this president stands by Americans with preexisting conditions.” — Kayleigh McEnany, press secretary
McEnany was sharing her personal story of having a preventive mastectomy to minimize her risk for breast cancer, which was prevalent in her family. Trump called to see how she felt after her surgery and, she said, has since continued to be a source of support.
However, the support he provided her has not translated into supporting legal protections for people who have preexisting conditions from being excluded from health plans or charged higher rates. In fact, we rated a claim by Trump in which he said he was the person who saved preexisting conditions as Pants on Fire. He got a False rating for saying he would protect those with preexisting conditions.
The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, put in place these protections. Trump has supported overturning the ACA. In 2017, Trump supported congressional efforts to repeal the ACA. The Trump administration is now backing the efforts to overturn the ACA via a court case. He has also expanded short-term health plans that don’t have to comply with the ACA.
Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Samantha Putterman, Amy Sherman, Paul Specht, Miriam Valverde and KHN reporter Victoria Knight contributed to this report. All photos courtesy of the Associated Press.
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Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.