Fact Check: How Accurate Are Cooper's Coronavirus Numbers And Forest's Face Mask Claim?
North Carolina is exceptional among Southern states when it comes to its response to the coronavirus. In the only gubernatorial debate last week, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest chided Gov. Roy Cooper for his handling of the pandemic while praising neighboring states for allowing many businesses to reopen faster. He mentioned Georgia, to which Cooper replied: "Georgia is about the same size as North Carolina. Yet they have almost a 100,000 more cases. They have almost twice as many deaths. And they have almost 600 more nursing home deaths than North Carolina."
Joining us to assess that claim is WRAL's Paul Specht.
Lisa Worf: Good morning, Paul.
Paul Specht: Good morning.
Worf: So there are a lot of numbers to unpack there. First, let's look at the statement that makes this comparison seemingly apt. Do Georgia and North Carolina have about the same population?
Specht: They do. Georgia is the eighth-most populous state, whereas North Carolina is the ninth. And they're separated by about 130,000 people. That's a fair comparison.
Worf: Now, as far as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths -- where is Cooper getting that information?
Specht: We reached out to his campaign immediately after this debate was over and they sent us back references to The New York Times' COVID case tracker, as well as the websites for the North Carolina and Georgia health departments.
Worf: And are those numbers comparable to each other?
Specht: They are. And so what we judged his claim on is what the health departments said. And in Georgia, the night of the debate, they reported about 334,000 cases total for the whole year. North Carolina is at 236,000 confirmed cases for the entire pandemic. And so that's a difference of 98,000, which is right there with what Cooper said. Keep in mind, Cooper said, Georgia has "almost" 100,000 more cases.
Worf: And what about Georgia having twice as many deaths as North Carolina?
Specht: Again, we use the health department websites from each state. North Carolina, as of last week was up to 3,800 deaths. And Georgia had 7,400 deaths. Twice as many as North Carolina would be 7,700. Georgia's right there at 7,400. So we thought that was pretty close.
Worf: And finally, Cooper's claim about nursing homes. Does Georgia have almost 600 more nursing home deaths than North Carolina?
Specht: They do. And this one is where Cooper was almost exactly right. We looked, in this case, at the federal government data for nursing home deaths. They showed that North Carolina had 1,300 and Georgia had 1,800 and some change. The truth of it, on the night of the debate, was that Georgia had 569 more deaths than North Carolina.
Worf: So how did you rate Cooper's claim?
Specht: This is a rare case where we gave it just a straight "true."
Worf: Now, during that debate, Forest brought up a CDC study. He said it showed 85% of positive cases in America are from people who say they wore the mask every day, all the time, or at least almost all the time. Now, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and President Donald Trump have made similar remarks about that study. Is that indeed what this study found?
Specht: No, it's not. This is something that got on PolitiFact's radar early last week, and then it bubbled up to Tucker Carlson's show and then shortly thereafter, in the next few days was repeated by Dan Forest, and then even President Trump when he came to Greenville.
In fact, the study that's being quoted did not look at masks at all. It was a survey of about 154 people, and the CDC asked them about why they think they got infected. What were their activities when they did get infected? And so it was more about the environmental conditions that these people were living in when they contracted the virus.
Worf: So this study was not about the effectiveness of masks, but from their survey of that group of people, there were 85% who said they wore the mask all the time or often. Health officials have certainly said you wear masks mostly to protect those around you. What was Forest's point -- and Carlson's and Trump's point -- in that case about this study?
Specht: Well, Dan Forest has cast doubt on the effectiveness of wearing a face mask to protect from the coronavirus. And he's wrong there, but it's nuanced. You're protecting others when you wear a mask. You're offering them a lot more protection than actually you're giving yourself. That's another thing that was misleading about what Tucker Carlson said and what Lt. Gov. Forest said.
Worf: Basically, they misconstrued the conclusion of the study, even though some of the numbers are correct.
Worf: And how did you rate this then?
Specht: We rated this claim "false." It's just inaccurate to take the findings of this survey and suggest that masks don't work because that's not what this survey was out to prove or disprove.
Worf: That's WRAL's Paul Specht. Thanks, Paul.
Specht: Thank you.
Worf: And these fact checks are a collaboration between WRAL and PolitiFact. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.
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