FDA Chief Declines to Respond to Trump's 99 Percent 'Harmless' Coronavirus Cases Claim

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn repeatedly declined responses to President Donald Trump's Saturday claim that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are "totally harmless."

During an interview with CNN Sunday, the FDA chief urged Americans to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on social distancing, but he avoided host Dana Bash's pressing attempts for him to respond to Trump's "lies" about COVID-19 health concerns.

The president told Fourth of July celebrators on the White House lawn Saturday that "99 percent of [coronavirus cases] are totally harmless," prompting immediate backlash from health officials, lawmakers and TV personalities alike.

"Now we have tested, almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases -- 99 percent of which are totally harmless -- results that no other country can show because no other country has testing that we have," Trump said. "Not in terms of the numbers, or in terms of the quality."

In the CNN interview, Hahn reiterated the seriousness of rising new cases across the country.

"No health expert that we have found can back up [Trump's claim], can you?" Bash asked Hahn, a member of Trump's task force, at the outset of the interview.

"So we know cases are surging in the country and we've all seen the graphs associated with that, and it's just too early, and I'm not going to speculate on what the causation is there," the FDA commissioner replied. "But I can tell you the way out of this for all Americans is follow the CDC and White House Task Force guidelines: social distance, wear a mask if you find yourself in a place where you can't social distance, practice good hand hygiene. All the things I would tell my patients."

Bash highlighted CDC data showing 35 percent of coronavirus patients are asymptomatic, while the World Health Organization (WHO) says 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are sick enough to need oxygen or hospital care.

She again asked the FDA commissioner to respond to the president's 99 percent harmless comment that she described as "misclaims, frankly lies."

"I totally support the CDC and the information they are putting out in terms of this pandemic. I think it's again really important that the guidelines we emphasized, the data we have, it's a rapidly evolving situation and we're going to have more data, but we absolutely must take this seriously," Hahn continued, again avoiding Bash's direct inquiry.

"Dr. Hahn, I realize this is not easy for you. You are working really hard to protect Americans. I have to ask you flatly to that end, to protect Americans, is the president wrong?" the visibly frustrated CNN host pressed for a third time.

"So, I'm not going to get into who is right and who is wrong. What I've going to say, Dana, is what I've said before. It's a serious problem that we have. We've seen the surge in cases. We must do something to stem the tide, and we have this in our power to do this by following the guidance from the task force and the CDC," Hahn replied.

Bash concluded the interview by informing the FDA commissioner about his repeated refusal to rebuke the president's coronavirus claim. "You won't say whether 99 percent of coronavirus cases are 'completely harmless,' is true or false," she said.

Newsweek reached out to both the White House and the FDA's Washington office for additional remarks Sunday morning.

As of Sunday, there are over 2.8 million coronavirus cases in the United States along with more than 129,000 deaths caused by the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker.

fda commissioner coronavirus cnn response
The FDA commissioner repeatedly refused point-blank responses to a CNN host about President Trump's "99 percent harmless" claim about coronavirus cases. Screenshot: CNN | Twitter