Sen. Rand Paul makes claims about the coronavirus that aren’t backed by science; WFPL reporter fact-checks them

State Department for Public Health map, labeled by Kentucky Health News, shows Warren County with a rate of 647 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. For a larger version of the map, click on it.

“You could say that Kentucky’s junior senator Rand Paul has assumed the position of contrarian-in-chief during the covid-19 pandemic. He’s challenged public health experts and claimed Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is a ‘dictator’ because of restrictions imposed to help slow down the spread of the virus,” Ryland Barton reports for WFPL.

Barton reports that many of Paul’s claims are not backed up by science, and sets out to correct them.

At a Senate committee hearing, Paul said that people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection are immune from catching it again.

Science doesn’t yet support that claim, Dr. Gonzalo Bearman at Virginia Commonwealth University told Barton: “We suspect that there might be some immunity, but in terms of really understanding if someone is immune and if for how long, unclear. And anyone who states they know is probably misrepresenting the truth.”

Paul, an ophthalmologist, is the only U.S. senator who has tested positive for and recovered from the virus. He says he doesn’t have to wear a mask because he is immune from the disease.

Paul also said the virus has been “relatively benign” outside New England, Barton reports.

While the infection rate has been lower in Kentucky than in major metropolitan areas, University of Louisville Medical School professor Ruth Carrico told Barton that the risk of getting the virus exists everywhere, pointing out that it can spread anywhere people gather, it just happened more quickly in big cities.

Paul lives in Bowling Green, seat of Warren County, which has more cases than any county but Jefferson (Louisville) and has an infection rate above the national average.

Next at the hearing, Paul said that there have been fewer deaths in Kentucky from covid-19 than from influenza.

“That’s just not true,” Barton reports. According to the state Department for Public Health, by May 9–the most recent report available–150 people in Kentucky had died from the flu. On that same day, the state announced that 304 Kentuckians had died so far from covid-19.

Barton reports, “The state had more deaths due to the virus and had racked them up more quickly than the flu, a seasonal disease that the state begins counting every year in late September. Kentucky didn’t get its first coronavirus case until March 6,” he writes.

Flu deaths have been reported since September of last year. Others told Barton that they think the number of coronavirus deaths is likely undercounted.

Finally, during the Senate committee hearing last week, Paul said that because children are dying from coronavirus at a much lower rate, schools should reopen.

Few children have died from the coronavirus, but this statement ignores the fact that they can still spread it, Barton notes. Further, experts are also still trying to learn more about a serious coronavirus-related syndrome that has developed in some children, including four in Kentucky.

Al Cross, a longtime Kentucky political journalist and director of the University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of Kentucky Health News), told Barton that Paul is not being reasonable when it comes to the coronavirus, and should know better.

“When you start disputing a long history of public-health practice, in terms of surges when restrictions against infections are relaxed, you are dealing in dangerous business, and he shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing,” Cross said, later adding, “He is coming close to enabling a pandemic by putting out this kind of information and making people think that it’s not that much to worry about. It’s foolish, it’s dangerous.”

Barton reports that Paul’s Senate office did not respond to a request for an interview for his story. He notes that Paul, a libertarian-oriented Republican, was first elected in 2010 and is up for re-election in 2022.

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