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'It affects virtually nobody': Fact-checking Trump's continued efforts to downplay the risks of coronavirus

Hours before the US death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 200,000, President Donald Trump was again downplaying the risks of the disease.

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Tara Subramaniam
Holly Yan, CNN
CNN — Hours before the US death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 200,000, President Donald Trump was again downplaying the risks of the disease.

At a campaign rally in Ohio on Monday, Trump said coronavirus "affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that's what it really affects. That's it."

He also doubled down on previous claims that young people are "virtually immune," this time saying "take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system."

Trump briefly paused before adding, "It affects virtually nobody."

Facts First: Trump continues to try to falsely narrow the types of people affected by coronavirus. For one, it's not true that the virus only affects elderly people with heart or other health problems. It's also clearly not true that the virus "affects virtually nobody." Trump's comments ignore warnings from public health officials about how contagious the virus is. Even if people who catch the virus don't get that sick, they are still liable to transmit it to others who may be more at risk. Research shows the effects of getting the virus can also be long-lasting.

As of September 16, the under 65 population accounts for the majority of cases and about 20% of US coronavirus deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The elderly, specifically individuals over age 65, represent only around 15% of cases according to the CDC, but they account for more than three-quarters of US coronavirus deaths. Young, previously healthy people have also died from the virus.

While children infected with coronavirus are less likely than adults to develop severe symptoms, Dr. Sean O'Leary, vice-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, told CNN's Anderson Cooper in August that coronavirus cases in children should still be taken seriously.

"It's not fair to say that this virus is completely benign in children," O'Leary said.

In an article for pediatric health care providers published in late May, the CDC noted that "severe outcomes have been reported in children including COVID-19 associated deaths."

Young people's immune systems don't always protect them from serious or long-term effects, including shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, brain fog, long-term fever, coughing, memory loss and the inability to taste or smell.

Sometimes, young people's strong immune systems can even work against them. They can produce inflammatory proteins called cytokines, and the inflammation can damage cells and organs in what's called cytokine storms. These overreactions by healthy immune systems can lead to severe symptoms.

Of the 25 states (plus New York City) that report child hospitalizations due to Covid-19, at least 5,016 children were hospitalized between May 21 and September 17, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And of the 42 states (plus New York City) that report child deaths due to Covid-19, at least 109 children have died from the disease between May 21 and September 17.

But without some states' data on child hospitalizations or deaths, the actual numbers may be higher.

The AAP said some states' definitions for "child" vary, with maximum age limits ranging from 14 to 20.

It's also important to note more than 40% of US adults have at least one underlying condition that can put them at higher risk of severe complications from Covid-19, according to the CDC. Those conditions include obesity, heart disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

People who have cancer, an organ transplant, sickle cell anemia, poorly controlled HIV or any autoimmune disorder are also at higher risk.

And Covid-19 patients with pre-existing conditions -- regardless of their age -- are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from the disease than those without pre-existing conditions, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.

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