President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic on July 4, claiming that “99%” of cases were “totally harmless,” even as the virus has claimed over 130,000 American lives.

“Likewise, testing — there were no tests for a new virus, but now we have tested almost 40 million people,” Trump said. “By so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country can show, because no other country has testing that we have — not in terms of the numbers or in terms of the quality.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 14% of confirmed coronavirus cases led to hospitalization through May 30, including 2% in intensive care units.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “the president was noting the fact that the vast majority of Americans who contract coronavirus will come out on the other side of this.”

While the official fatality rate is about 4.5%, not everyone who has contracted COVID-19 has been tested for it, particularly those who are asymptomatic or live in areas that have experienced testing kit shortages. The clear lack of testing suggests the fatality rate is significantly lower.

“Some estimates do place the mortality at about 1%,” Columbia University epidemiologist Stephen Morse told KCCI Des Moines. “However, 1% mortality is not the same as ‘99% … totally harmless’. I wish that were true. ‘Totally harmless’ suggests that the infection doesn’t do any harm.”

Morse also stressed that those who do survive the virus may face long-term health complications, “including lung damage but also other symptoms, and we don’t know how common these sequelae (meaning the aftereffects of the virus) are.”

Dr. Thomas McGinn, the deputy physician in chief at Northwell Health and director of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, told the New York Times that even mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 may lead to health complications later.

“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,” McGinn said.

He added: “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.”

Trump’s claim that the U.S. has produced “results that no other country can show” is also false, as several other countries have reported lower fatality rates.

Among the countries most affected by coronavirus currently, the U.S. has the sixth-highest case fatality rate, according to John Hopkins University & Medicine.

Despite the evidence showing the contrary, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows backed Trump’s claim that 99% of cases are “harmless” on Monday.

“When you start to look at the stats and look at all the numbers we have, the amount of testing that we have, the vast majority of people are safe from this,” Meadows said on Fox & Friends, adding that most people who have died from the virus were considered high risk because of age and underlying health conditions. “Outside of that, the risks are extremely low, and the president’s right with that and the facts and statistics back us up there.”

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