Utah’s coronavirus response team accuses Trump of spreading misinformation

(Evan Vucci | AP File photo) Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, left, President Donald Trump, center, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar leave a briefing on the coronavirus at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Bethesda, Md.

[Update: Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox ordered the state’s coronavirus response team to delete a tweet that accused President Donald Trump of spreading “misinformation” about the virus. Read more here.]

The Utah Coronavirus Task Force — headed by the lieutenant governor — said President Donald Trump “spread ... misinformation” when he suggested people could recover from COVID-19 while going to work.

While warning that Trump had downplayed the dangers of exposure, state officials noted that the federal government doesn’t have enough tests for everyone who thinks they may have the virus.

“DO NOT go to work if you have symptoms that match COVID-19. Stay home to avoid making others sick,” the Task Force tweeted Thursday. “Even if you have very mild symptoms, going to work sick could be dangerous to others. Let’s work together to stop the spread of misinformation like what’s in this video.”

(Screenshot via Twitter) A tweet sent on the morning of March 5, 2020 from @UtahCoronavirus, an account owned and managed by a task force for managing the state's response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The state’s tweet included a recording of Trump saying: “We have thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better.”

Trump made the remarks during a phone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, which aired Wednesday night.

As critics decried the president’s comments, which contradict advice from the CDC, Trump responded in a tweet Thursday:

“I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work. This is just more Fake News and disinformation put out by the Democrats, in particular MSDNC. Comcast covers the CoronaVirus situation horribly, only looking to do harm to the incredible & successful effort being made!”

In the phone interview, Trump also said he believed the 3.4% death rate reported for COVID-19 by the World Health Organization was “a false number” and that he had a “hunch” the death rate was far lower — “way under 1%.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert to head up the coronavirus task force, which is preparing for a potential outbreak.

Herbert said Thursday that he agreed with Trump that the symptoms of coronavirus are mild in most cases — but stressed that people should stay home if they feel unwell.

“I think what [Trump] is saying, and I concur, is that most people will have a mild form of coronavirus,” Herbert told reporters Thursday. For that reason, most people would be physically capable of going about their daily lives as normal, including showing up at work.

“But ... you also have the ability to spread the virus to somebody else,” Herbert said. “And so our counsel to everybody is, if you’re sick stay home. Take an extra few days off, because you’re a carrier.”

Cox appears in a video the state tweeted explaining when and how Utahns can seek testing and treatment if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

So far, the state has not documented any cases of someone in Utah contracting the virus. Health officials say the state lab has supplies to test 400 patients — not enough for everyone who may develop symptoms, Cox said in the video posted Thursday.

Health officials are testing only certain people with symptoms: those who have had close contact with a confirmed patient, and those who have traveled to a location where the virus is spreading.

As of Thursday, tests were available only through the state Health Department and were being administered free of charge to patients who met that criteria, said Jenny Johnson, department spokeswoman. Seventeen patients have been tested so far in Utah and 15 have tested negative for the virus. Two tests were still pending, Johnson said.

The criteria to test may change as more cases are confirmed, she said.

But Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the federal response to the virus, said on Thursday that the U.S. does not have enough tests to meet expected demand, Reuters reported.

Johnson said she did not know when or whether Utah would try to acquire more test supplies.

Lawmakers on Thursday said they were considering setting aside $16.5 million for the state’s coronavirus response.

“We think that’s adequate with what’s going on, at least to date,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who helps lead the Legislature’s appropriations committee. Senate leaders said the governor’s coronavirus task force will likely offer recommendations on how to use the money to handle and contain the illness.

Meanwhile, worries about the virus were putting pressure on health care providers, Johnson said.

“People are so worried about this right now they’re inundating providers ... when they don’t need to,” Johnson said.

She urged patients with no known risk of COVID-19 exposure to care for themselves at home as long as their symptoms are mild.

“If you are sick right now, it is still cold and flu season, so more than likely you have something other than COVID-19,” Johnson said.