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Trump says he thinks 3.4% coronavirus death rate is a "false number"

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President Trump said in an interview Wednesday night that the 3.4% mortality rate for coronavirus cited by the director of the World Health Organization is a "false number," and he also said that he thought people infected with coronavirus may get better "by sitting around and even going to work." 

However, on Thursday morning, he flatly denied that he had suggested Americans infected with coronavirus could go to work, blaming the media for misinterpreting what he said in his interview with Fox News late Wednesday.

Mr. Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity in a Wednesday night phone interview that he doesn't believe the death rate from the spreading virus is as high as 3.4% — the rate stated by World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Wednesday — pointing out that many people might have mild symptoms and never report their cases and "get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work." The president's remarks highlight a frequent criticism of the administration's stringent requirements for testing up to this point: that because the tests have been scarce, the number of those who have been infected is likely significantly higher than what has been reported. 

Top U.S. health officials in a briefing Thursday morning also said they believe the 3.4% number is too high, and the actual rate is far lower. Some medical studies have suggested coronavirus has a mortality rate of about 2%. If many people with mild or no symptoms aren't being counted in those calculations, the overall death rate would be lower.

"I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work," the president tweeted Thursday morning. "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!"

Here's what the president told Hannity:

"Well I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this — because a lot of 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 eve call a doctor. You never hear about those people. So you can't put them down in the category, the overall population in terms of this corona flu, 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, and then when you do have a death like you've had in the state of Washington, like you had one in California, I believe you had one in New York, you know all of the sudden it seems like 3 or 4 %, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1%. But again, they don't, they don't know about the easy cases because the easy cases don't go to hospital, they don't report to doctors or the hospital, in many cases, so I think that that number is very high. Personally, I would say the number is way under 1%."

Mr. Trump did not appear to add that people who feel sick should not go to work, as his top health officials have repeatedly emphasized in White House briefings. 

Keeping White House messaging consistent on the virus is proving to be a challenge for a president who built his campaign and even his presidency on speaking off-the-cuff. 

Mr. Trump said a vaccine would be available to the public "soon," but is consistently contradicted by health officials who state that a vaccine will not be available earlier than the next 12 to 18 months, despite the administration's push for swift movement. 

He's said therapeutic treatments or "therapies" are "sort of another word for cure," although viruses generally do not have cures. 

Mr. Trump has made it a priority to address the nation, bringing back regular White House briefings to address the epidemic on a nearly daily basis. He's visiting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on Friday, and Vice President Mike Pence — tasked by the president to focus full time on combatting the virus — is in Minnesota and Washington state meeting with government and business leaders to address the crisis. 

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