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FACT CHECK: Trump Compares Coronavirus To The Flu, But It Could Be 10 Times Deadlier

President Donald Trump talks with host Bill Hemmer Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall with members of the coronavirus task force at the White House.
Evan Vucci

In arguing for returning the country to some kind of normal sooner rather than later, President Trump noted that 36,000 people, on average, die from the flu each year.

"But we've never closed down the country for the flu," the president said during an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday. "So you say to yourself, 'What is this all about?' "

But the two really can't be compared. They are very different and present different kinds of dangers. Here's how they are different, per a storydone four days ago by Pien Huang, a reporter on NPR's Science Desk who covers global health and development:

1. COVID-19 is novel, or new. That means there's no vaccine, and it's unclear how it will manifest;

2. This strain of coronavirus appears to infect two to 2.5 people versus 1.3 with the flu, so coronavirus seems to be about twice as contagious as the flu;

3. Some 20% of coronavirus patients are in serious enough condition to go to the hospital, 10 times the number who wind up in the hospital because of the flu;

4. Hospital stays for the coronavirus are twice as as long as for the flu;

5. About 8% of people get the flu every year. Some estimates are 25% to 50%, possibly up to 80%, could get the coronavirus without drastic actions being taken by individuals, states and municipalities and the federal government;

6. The coronavirus could be 10 times deadlier than the flu — about 0.1% who get flu die. It's estimated that about 1% of those who have gotten coronavirus have died from it;

7. There are treatments for the flu. There are no approved treatments for the coronavirus, despite the president's optimism for certain drugs, which are untested for coronavirus to this point; and

8. The flu tends to wane in warm weather, but it's too soon to count on that for coronavirus, which is thriving in warm, tropical places.

One of the people advising the president has already argued that this is not a good comparison to make.

"I mean people always say, 'Well, the flu does this, the flu does that,' " Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said two weeks agoduring a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He added, "The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That's the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this."

In that same hearing, by the way, Fauci also noted that H1N1 flu, which was a pandemic in 2009, was far less lethal than even the seasonal flu. Trump has criticized the Obama administration for its response to H1N1 when he is criticized for his response to the coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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