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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.