Florida doctors react to Trump’s ‘malicious’ COVID claim
As the growth in coronavirus cases in Florida slowed Saturday, medical groups slammed President Donald Trump for repeating a conspiracy theory that doctors are inflating the number of COVID-19 deaths to drive up profits during a pandemic.
“You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right?” Trump said at a Michigan rally Friday, resurfacing a claim he has made for weeks. “I mean, our doctors are very smart people … so, what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, everybody dies of COVID.’ “
Calling the claims “malicious and baseless,” the Florida Medical Association condemned the president’s statements.
“The truth is that our nation’s doctors have selflessly put their own health and safety at risk treating COVID-19 patients,” the association’s president, Dr. Mike Patete, said in a statement. “Many doctors, nurses and frontline healthcare workers have lost their lives serving our community during this pandemic. Like most of our fellow citizens, doctors have also suffered significant financial losses over the past eight months.
In Florida, the pace of deaths has not been as alarming recently as the pace of new cases and the positivity rate, which helps show if more testing alone is behind new cases.
After six weeks in which the daily rate of positive cases statewide has averaged 4.7%, slightly below the 5% threshold medical experts say is critical, it has shot up to 5.6% on average over the past seven days, including 6.3% on Saturday.
In Palm Beach County, the shift has been more dramatic. It went two months with an average positivity rate of 3.8%, only to top 5% over each of the past seven days. On Saturday, the Florida Department of Health reported a rate of 7.37% for Palm Beach County.
However, after four days in which new coronavirus cases topped 4,000 daily and reached 5,592 on Friday, the growth slowed to 2,331 new cases on Saturday, DOH reported.
Palm Beach County, which had averaged more than 300 cases a day for a week, fell to 263 new cases.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health who leads the government’s testing effort, said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show that testing alone cannot explain the rise in cases, according to CNBC. A good indication of that, epidemiologists say, is that the percent of positive tests is rising along with the number of new cases.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 dipped in Florida to 2,291 Saturday morning, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reported. State hospitals had been averaging more than 2,300 patients in recent days.
In Palm Beach County, with 146 patients hospitalized, the number is higher than a week ago, when it hovered at 100.
In all, the state has recorded 802,547 coronavirus cases, including 52,447 in Palm Beach County, since the pandemic began in March.
With the nation surpassing 9 million cases Saturday and approaching 100,000 new cases a day, Florida accounts for about 9% of all cases nationwide.
After four straight days with 50 or more deaths, Florida reported 42 new deaths Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 16,969, including nonresidents.
Palm Beach County had two newly reported deaths, a low number in keeping with a week in which it averaged four new deaths a day. The county has 1,612 deaths overall.
Nationwide, deaths surpassed 230,000 Saturday, Johns Hopkins University reported.
In Florida, deaths no longer must be verified by local medical examiners, putting the cause of death determination in the hands of physicians.
But they’re adamant to say that even if hospitals get more federal money to cover the higher costs of protection and treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients, doctors are not lining their pockets.
The American Medical Association called the president’s suggestion “a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”
“COVID-19 cases are at record highs today. Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” AMA President Susan Bailey said in a statement.
The president’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, also criticized Trump for the claim.
“The president of the United States is accusing the medical profession of making up COVID deaths so they make more money,” the Democratic nominee told a drive-in rally in Minnesota on Friday. “Doctors and nurses go to work every day to save lives. They do their jobs. Donald Trump should stop attacking them and do his job.”
Trump has made similar arguments for some time, suggesting that terminally ill patients who contract COVID-19 during the course of their disease are categorized as having died from coronavirus rather than their underlying condition. He appears to be referring to a provision of the bipartisan economic stimulus legislation that included a 20% additional Medicare reimbursement for hospitals treating COVID patients, USA TODAY reported.
But public health experts and independent fact checkers have noted that the higher reimbursement alone is not evidence of widespread fraud. They have also noted that it’s just as possible there has been an undercount in coronavirus deaths, either because of a lack of testing in the early phases of the pandemic or because the affected patients by secondary conditions caused by the virus.
USA TODAY reporter John Fritze contributed to this story.
County: 52,477 cases, 1,612 deaths
Florida: 802,547 cases,16,969 deaths
U.S.: 9,079,125 cases, 230,019 deaths
Global: 45,837,788 cases, 1,192,369 deaths