On March 5 2020, the Facebook page “Crooks and Liars” shared an article bearing the headline, “Trump Calls Up Hannity, Tells People With Covid-19 To Go To Work”:
Underneath an embedded video, the site claimed:
In just over two minutes, the so-called president denied the actual death rate of Covid-19, told people who think they may have the virus to go ahead and go to work and compares the virus to the flu, even though he has been told over and over again that it is not at all like the flu.
Nowhere in the transcribed portion of the page was Trump directly quoted as saying people with COVID-19 should “go to work,” but Trump is paraphrased as having “told people who think they may have the virus to go ahead and go to work.”
The embedded video was two minutes and 20 seconds long, and described as including Trump’s advice that those who test positive for novel coronavirus COVID-19 should go to work. A clip of the same length was available on Twitter, and it appeared to match the video precisely from where it began to where it started.
Of the two clips below, the second and longer clip was the one appended to the Crooks and Liars post:
About ten seconds into the longer clip (2:20), Trump began to speak. In the cut-off portion prior to that, Hannity asked about a possible global “death rate” (or mortality rate) of 3.4 percent, and Trump’s response included comments about COVID-19 and work.
Between the 0:10 and 1:25 marks, Trump made numerous claims about COVID-19 and public health. We focused on the “go to work” portion, and emphasized it in the transcription below:
Well, I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number. Now, and this is just my hunch, and — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this. Because a lot people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly. They don’t even see a doctor. They don’t even call a doctor.
You never hear about those people [with mild cases of COVID-19], so you can’t put them down in the category of the overall population in terms of this corona flu and … or virus, so you just can’t do that … so if, you know, 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.
When you do have a death, like you had in the state of Washington, like you had one in California, [I] believe you had one in New York, you know, all of a sudden, it seems like 3 or 4 percent [is the mortality rate], which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1 percent … but again, [most Americans] don’t know about the easy cases because the easy cases don’t go to the hospital, they don’t report to doctors or the hospital, in many cases, so I think that that number [3.4 percent] is very high. I think the [case-fatality rate] number, personally, I would say the number is way under 1 percent.
Trump’s broader claims were about the coronavirus’s mortality or case-fatality rate (CFR). Hannity referenced a 3.4 percent rate (meaning between three and four of every 100 people infected would die from it), and Trump explained at length that he personally believed COVID-19 to have a far lower mortality rate than 3.4 percent.
From there, he indicated his “hunch” was that many people infected with COVID-19 experienced such mild cases that they either didn’t seek medical help or presumably remained unaware they contracted the virus. Those people, Trump posited, were not included in official statistics because their cases went unreported. In essence, he said that far more people contracted COVID-19 than were officially counted, and those with severe symptoms were likelier to seek medical attention, and by extension, likelier to die of the virus.
It appeared Trump was necessarily (but not explicitly) describing asymptomatic carriers who were exposed to and would test positive for COVID-19 — but remained unaware they had contracted the virus. Moreover, he indicated some that mild cases involved people well enough to go to work, again possibly unaware they had even been exposed to or contracted COVID-19.
What he did not say is that anyone — asymptomatic or otherwise — ought to go to work. As the rumor spread, Trump tweeted a clarification:
A virally popular post claimed that United States President Donald Trump called Fox News pundit Sean Hannity and “told people with COVID-19 (or coronavirus) to go to work.” Both video and transcription of the clip indicated that Trump did not say that. He did maintain that people with mild cases of COVID-19 “get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work but they get better.” It was clear in context he was referencing people who contracted coronavirus without falling seriously ill, well enough to go to work and possibly unaware they fell ill at all.