Joni Ernst, in a Tight Senate Race, Repeats a Debunked Coronavirus Theory

The Iowa senator’s comments echoed a false claim, spread by President Trump over the weekend, that deaths from Covid-19 have been inflated.

By Trip Gabriel

As Iowa sees a sharp spike in coronavirus cases, Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican in a tight race for re-election, echoed a debunked conspiracy theory that Covid-19 deaths were being greatly inflated and suggested that health care providers had a financial motive to falsify cases.

Ms. Ernst said she was “so skeptical” of the government’s national statistics about virus fatalities during a visit on Monday to Waterloo, a city in northeast Iowa.

“They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly Covid-19,” Ms. Ernst said. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Ms. Ernst’s comments seemed to repeat a false claim spread by President Trump on Twitter over the weekend, which the company removed for violating its rules against sharing disinformation because it is linked to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.

The claim, retweeted by Mr. Trump and spread widely by others on social media, inaccurately said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6%” of deaths — or about 9,000 people — “actually died from Covid.”

The claim was apparently based on a C.D.C. data table updated last week showing 161,332 death certificates that listed Covid-19 as a cause of death. In 6 percent of cases, Covid-19 was the only cause of death. The other 94 percent included underlying conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

But as health experts have repeatedly emphasized, it is a misreading of the data to suggest that a person infected with the virus who had other health problems, or comorbidities, did not die of Covid-19.

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