Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn on Sunday would neither defend nor explicitly contradict President Donald Trump's baseless assertion that 99% of COVID-19 cases are "totally harmless."
On CNN's "State of the Union," host Dana Bash said she couldn't find a single health expert to back-up Trump's assertion, asking Hahn for his take.
"We know that cases are surging in the country," Hahn said. "The way out of this for all Americans is to follow the CDC and the White House task force guidelines. Social distance, wear a mask if you find yourself in a situation where you can't social distance, good hand hygiene ... and if you're near someone who's vulnerable, and you think you've been exposed, please take care and avoid exposing that person."
Bash continued to press Hahn on the president's unsubstantiated claim that 99% are "harmless," noting that data from the Center's for Disease Control and Prevention show only about one-third of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. She also pointed to the fact the World Health Organization has said about 20% of people with coronavirus are "sick enough to need oxygen or hospital care."
"It's not true," Bash said of Trump's assertion. "This is really important, probably one of the most important misclaims or, frankly, lies that the president has put out there," Bash added. "It really affects people's health. If they hear the president saying 99% of people are fine — they're going to change their behavior, potentially get sick, infect other people."
When asked how that made Hahn feel as a member of the White House coronavirus task force, the FDA chief said: "We absolutely must take this seriously, we must institute these public health measures, we cannot back off from those. It's critically important for Americans to follow those guidelines and to protect the most vulnerable."
Refusing to let up, Bash then flatly asked Hahn if Trump was "wrong" to say 99% of cases are "totally harmless."
"I'm not going to get into who's right and who is wrong," Hahn said in response.
—CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 5, 2020
During a July 4th celebration in Washington, DC, on Saturday, Trump said: "Now we have tested almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country can show because no other country has the testing that we have, not in terms of the numbers or in terms of quality."
Trump has made a slew of false or baseless statements on the coronavirus pandemic since it began months ago and repeatedly embellished America's testing capacity while falsely claiming that the recent surge in cases is due to increased testing.
Speaking of the alarming uptick in cases last week, Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir, the coronavirus testing czar, said, "We do believe this is a real increase in cases because the percent positivities are going up. So, this is real increases in cases."
"I think it's pretty obvious that we are not going in the right direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said on Thursday regarding the spread of COVID-19 in the US.
The president spent weeks downplaying the threat of the virus in the early days of the outbreak, and he's been excoriated by many of the nation's leading health experts over his handling of the virus.
In late February, Trump told Americans the number of cases in the US would be "close to zero" in a couple of days. At the time, top public health officials were warning that cases would go up, urging Americans to prepare for severe disruptions to daily life.
In April, Trump suggested that people could inject household disinfectants to cure the virus, prompting bleach manufacturers to warn Americans against injecting or ingesting their products under any circumstances. Medical experts condemned Trump's comments as irresponsible and dangerous.
As of Sunday morning, there were over 2.8 million reported cases of COVID-19 in the US, alongside almost 130,000 confirmed fatalities, per Johns Hopkins.
A vaccine is widely viewed as the surest path toward defeating the virus. In another Sunday morning interview with ABC's "This Week," Hahn declined to back-up Trump's claim that a vaccine would be ready "long before the end of the year."
"I can't predict when a vaccine will be available," Hahn said.