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Fact-checking the 2020 vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, face off in Salt Lake City Wednesday night for the lone 2020 vice presidential debate.

The live, 90-minute debate, moderated by USA Today Washington Bureau chief Susan Page, touched on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change, the Supreme Court and more.

Below, ABC News will fact check what both candidates say. Refresh for the latest updates.

PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris arrive for the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris arrive for the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris arrive for the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Pence misleads when comparing COVID-19 pandemic to H1N1, Obama administration response

PENCE’S CLAIM: “We actually do know what failure looks like in a pandemic: It was 2009, the swine flu arrived in the United States. … When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, not 7.5 million people contracted the swine flu, 60 million Americans contracted the swine flu.”

FACT CHECK: While Pence is correct that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the 2009 swine flu pandemic infected an estimated 60.8 million Americans in its first year, it is misleading to compare the two outbreaks given H1N1’s far lower fatality rate, and similarly misleading to call the Obama administration’s response a “failure.”

The CDC estimates up to 575,000 lives were lost to the swine flu worldwide. Of those, fewer than 13,000 were American, due in part to the Obama administration’s “complex, multi-faceted and long-term response,” the CDC later wrote. Thus far, COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 210,000 Americans, a little over eight months since the first known case of the virus was discovered in the United States.

“The team, in my opinion, in 2009, really demonstrated that the planning was worth it. Nothing is ever perfect. But I felt just so impressed and so proud of the job CDC did in 2009,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, a CDC director during the George W. Bush administration, told ABC News.

–John Verhovek and Lucien Bruggeman

Pence overstates China travel restrictions

PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

FACT CHECK: At the end of January, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation to restrict travelers who had visited China in the previous 14 days from entering

Fact-Checking COVID-19 Falsehoods From the Presidential Debate

First Presidential Debate Between Donald Trump And Democratic Candidate Joe Biden
First Presidential Debate Between Donald Trump And Democratic Candidate Joe Biden

Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump, left, speak during the first U.S. presidential debate hosted by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Credit – Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Few things are more important in the U.S. right now than clarity and truth on the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and remains a threat to the lives and health of millions. Unfortunately, Tuesday night’s presidential debate in Ohio, hosted by the Cleveland Clinic, was rife with falsehoods about the nature of the disease, the fight against it and what comes next.

Here are four misstatements, and the correct facts. For further politics-free, science-based information on the coronavirus pandemic, see TIME’s COVID-19 coverage.

Who is in danger?

In discussing how and when the economy will recover from the deadly pandemic, President Donald Trump made sweeping claims about the type of people who tend to contract COVID-19. “We had to [shut down the economy] because we didn’t know anything about the disease, now we found that elderly people with heart problems and diabetes and different problems are very, very vulnerable,” he said. “We learned a lot. Young children aren’t, even younger people aren’t.”

It is true that people with underlying conditions, or comorbidities, tend to get seriously sick and die from COVID-19 at higher rates than those who are young and otherwise healthy. According to research affiliated with the Department of Health and Human Services and published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, a majority out of a sample of 10,647 who died from the virus were 65 or older, and most had underlying health conditions.

But this same data indicates that 30% of non-white coronavirus fatalities and 35% of Hispanic fatalities were under 65, while 13% of white, non-Hispanic fatalities were under that age. Further, while children have not faced severe symptoms of COVID-19 as often as older populations, the CDC has published guidance indicating that children who likely encountered the virus in daycare facilities then transmitted COVID-19 to their family members, and potentially adult childcare workers. Some scientists and doctors also believe that the virus has caused children to contract something called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome”—which can coincide with inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal organs, and has caused at least 19 deaths.

—By Abby Vesoulis/Washington

Are masks effective?

Trump said he only wears a mask himself “when I think I need it,” and claimed that some public health experts including Anthony Fauci have questioned the effectiveness of mask wearing.

In fact, all top public health experts now agree that wearing masks is enormously important and effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. “Face masks, these face masks, are the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in Congressional testimony in September.