Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst seemed to embrace on Monday a thoroughly-discredited QAnon conspiracy theory about U.S. deaths from COVID-19 being a mere fraction of what has been reported. As Amie Rivers of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reported, Ernst said she was “so skeptical” of the official death count when asked by an attendee if the government was over-reporting coronavirus deaths.
“They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst said, seemingly referring to the debunked conspiracy theory that only around 6% of COVID-19 deaths were due to the virus. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”
Going even further, however, Ernst also suggested that doctors were intentionally falsifying coronavirus cases in order to receive more money for caring for the patient.
“These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” she questioned the crowd.
Ernst, who made the comments during an event in Black Hawk County with State Rep. Ashley Hinson, told the Courier that she had “heard the same thing on the news,” but wasn’t positive that was the case.
The reimbursement rate theory has been around since early this year, ever since a Minnesota legislator made the claim in a Fox News interview. However, as FactCheck.org wrote, “multiple experts told us that such theories of hospitals deliberately miscoding patients as COVID-19 are not supported by any evidence.”
More than that, such an accusation from Ernst means she’s implying that the Iowa doctors and nurses that are risking their lives on the front lines of the pandemic are intentionally lying about patients’ conditions. That is an extremely inflammatory accusation to suggest, especially for a sitting U.S. senator.
The other claim, that the official U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is far lower than reported, is a conspiracy theory that Donald Trump, QAnon and some far-right commentators have embraced in recent weeks. It is so discredited and dangerous that Twitter removed one of Trump’s retweets from a QAnon account of the idea.
A QAnon member started a viral false claim that the CDC reclassified the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to where only 6% of them were actually being due to the virus. This is incorrect. What the CDC released is statistics on “comorbidities” of those who passed away due to the virus, or essentially other health conditions that they had at the time of their death. The conspiracy theorists, which seem to also include Ernst, think that means that the 6% who only had COVID-19 listed as a health condition upon their death must mean that only those people died of COVID-19.
Think of it this way: if someone were to die in the car crash, but they also happened to have diabetes, it would be like saying that maybe they didn’t actually die from the accident, maybe instead the blunt-force trauma that killed them was due to their diabetes.
This accusation too would mean that hundreds of thousands of health care professionals who are doing their best to fight this deadly pandemic are also actively engaged in a massive conspiracy to boost COVID-19 death rates for… some reason.
Again, these theories that Ernst is playing with are not simply far-right, anti-government theories, they also dishonor the health care professionals that Ernst herself has often called heroes during the pandemic.
by Pat Rynard
Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.