Top White House aide Kellyanne Conway made a baffling ― and misleading ― statement during an appearance Wednesday on Fox News, suggesting COVID-19’s name is derived in part from the number of known coronavirus diseases.
“This is COVID-19 ― not COVID-1, folks,” Conway said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “And so you would think the people charged with the World Health Organization would be on top of that.”
But COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease 2019” and is reflective of the year it was identified, not the number of previously documented diseases.
It seemed as though Conway, a high-ranking adviser to the president, was either alarmingly unaware of this or she feigned ignorance in front of the show’s more than 1 million average daily viewers.
In a subsequent interview on the Fox Business Network, Conway acknowledged that the disease’s name partially refers to the year 2019.
“It is called COVID-19 – not COVID-20 ― yet it took WHO until March to call it a global pandemic,” she said.
Conway later tweeted that she knows the “19 refers to the year” in response to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who called on her to “do better” after her “COVID-1” remark.
“Which felt better: insulting me or endorsing Bloomberg for president?” Conway tweeted at the congressman. “God bless.”
“It’s telling that you perceive the truth as an insult,” Rush tweeted back.
Conway’s eyebrow-raising comments Wednesday were part of a larger attack against the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the U.S. is placing a hold on funding to the organization while his administration investigates what he claimed was the group’s mismanagement of the crisis.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump, who has been sharply criticized for initially downplaying the threat of the pandemic, said during a news conference at the White House. “So much death has been caused by their mistakes.”
The WHO has faced criticism for being overly deferential to China, even as the country initially concealed news about the coronavirus and failed to disclose alarming data about infections among health care workers for more than a month.
The group has also lagged in making some key recommendations: Its guidelines still say people don’t need to wear face masks in public unless they are sick, while the CDC has recommended all Americans do so. What’s more, the group waited until mid-March to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, which some experts thought came too late.
However, public health experts have warned against freezing WHO funding in the middle of a pandemic.
Conway on Wednesday tore into the agency for being reluctant to support travel restrictions as the virus continues to spread across the world.
“The president took decisive and immediate action in the end of January to shut down flights from China that was criticized by the WHO, it was criticized by other people, as xenophobic and racist and ‘travel bans don’t work,’” she said. “Well, this one sure did.”
In fact, scientists believe most coronavirus cases came into the U.S. from Europe, not Asia. Trump did not impose travel restrictions on Europe until March 11.
Of the world’s more than 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, roughly 30% ― or about 600,000 people ― are in the U.S., making it the country with the most known infections. Spain is a distant second with more than 177,000 confirmed cases.
“Some of the scientists and doctors say there could be other strains later on,” Conway said Wednesday. “This could come back in the fall in a limited way.”
“Limited” may prove to be an understatement. Some experts have suggested a possible second wave could be even deadlier than the first. Others have suggested outbreaks will emerge sporadically until there is a vaccine.