A dose of hope?  Fact-checking President Joe Biden’s first address to Congress

In his first address to Congress, President Joe Biden argued it was time to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a historic opportunity to expand government for the benefit of a wider range of Americans, and invest in jobs, climate change, childcare, infrastructure and to ask for more.

Biden said taxes for business and the rich should be increased to pay for new expenses and to address escalating inequality.

“My fellow Americans, the trickle-down economy never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and from the center out, ”said Biden.

He repeatedly urged Congress to take various measures, including issues such as gun control and immigration, which have frozen Congress for decades. He said police reforms proposed after George Floyd’s death should be passed and explicitly pushed for bipartisan consensus.

“I know Republicans have their own ideas and have productive conversations with Democrats. We have to work together to find consensus, ”said Biden.

The coronavirus pandemic limited audiences to 200 masked and detached members of Congress and other officials, compared to a typical audience of around 1,600.

Only two members of the President’s Cabinet were invited: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Chief Justice John Roberts represented the Supreme Court. First Lady Jill Biden’s guests were invited to follow the event virtually.

For the first time in US history, two women sat directly behind the president as he delivered his speech: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to serve in that position .

“Madam Vice President,” said Biden. “No president has ever said those words, and the time has come.”

For the most part, Biden’s statements about his progress and future plans matched estimates from think tanks or government data. In some cases, he left out information that would give Americans a complete picture. Our PolitiFact partners checked his statements on a number of topics. You can read her full story here. Biden also discussed the ongoing covid pandemic and other health issues. Here are highlights from his speech:

“During those 100 days, another 800,000 Americans signed up for the Affordable Care Act when I set a special filing date for it. 800,000 in that time. ”

This seems accurate, but needs context.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden set a special enrollment period for Americans to enroll for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s market plans. This special registration period started on February 15th and runs until August 15th. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 528,000 Americans have had health insurance from the start of that special enrollment period through March 31, Administration officials said Biden’s reference to the 800,000 new enrollments reflected the most recent tally, although it was not previously announced.

“When I was sworn in on January 20th, less than 1% of seniors in America were fully vaccinated against Covid-19. One hundred days later, 70% of seniors over 65 are protected. The number of elderly deaths from Covid-19 has fallen 80% since January. “

This is largely correct, but there are uncertainties in the data.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data tracker, 0.8% of those over 65 had been vaccinated by Jan. 20. So Biden is right on this point.

However, when Biden took office, the U.S. vaccination program had only been in place for about a month – the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines weren’t approved for emergency use until mid-December. Initial recommendations from the Independent Advisory Committee on Vaccination Practices prioritized vaccination of healthcare workers and, subsequently, of residents of long-term care facilities. The next two phases included people age 75 and over, and then over 65, which means some states may not have started vaccinating these age groups until mid-January.

As of Wednesday, the CDC reported the proportion of people over 65 who had received full doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and were fully protected at almost 70% – it was 68.3%. The percentage who received at least one dose is higher: 82%.

A senior administrator provided CDC mortality data for all Americans, but no statistics specifically on the elderly. These data show that from January 20th to April 27th, the daily death rate decreased by nearly 80%.

The Associated Press reported April 22 that the best data available appeared to show covid deaths in people age 65 and older, down more than 50% from a peak in January for age-related deaths at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are incomplete and can be revised. ”

The recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic was “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression”.

This is proven by two important key figures.

The biggest economic blow since the Great Depression in the 1930s was widely viewed as the 2007-2009 Great Recession, but the recession caused by the pandemic had a bigger impact.

The peak unemployment rate during the Great Recession was 10% in October 2009, but pales in comparison to the peak unemployment rate during the pandemic of 14.8% in April 2020.

Senator Tim Scott and the Republican Response

Senator Tim Scott (RS.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate, was selected to deliver the GOP counter-argument to Biden’s speech. He said the president is dividing Americans and has failed to keep his promise of unity.

“I want to have an honest conversation,” said Scott. “About common sense and common ground. About this feeling that our nation is slipping from its common foundation and how we are moving forward together. “

PolitiFact checked five of Scott’s claims, including this one in which he claimed that it has been safe for schools to study in person for some time.

“Our public schools should have reopened months ago. … Private and religious schools have done it. Science has shown for months that schools are safe. “

Scott’s statement about what science has shown is generally true, but it omits warnings from public health experts that schools should take precautionary measures to control infection.

“Most private and religious schools were open for most of the school year and the vast majority were extremely successful with minimal academic transmission,” said Dr. David Rosen, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis. “However, this is based on the premise that schools are taking the right action, particularly universal masking and preventing symptomatic children from being in the classroom.”

There were also many examples of large public school districts where very few cases of SARS-CoV-2 were transmitted in the classroom, Rosen said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines in June 2020 stating, “All policy considerations for the coming school year should begin with students being physically present at school” for the fall semester of 2020. Recommendations included that students must wear masks, maintain a physical distance of 3 to 6 feet, and possibly include tests and temperature checks in the safety record.

Schools have increasingly opened up for face-to-face teaching as the year progresses, but some remain virtual. As of April 19, 4% of districts were completely isolated, 47% of districts were completely face-to-face and about 48% of districts offer some sort of hybrid class, according to a tracker from the American Enterprise Institute.

Rosen said it was the right thing to close schools in March 2020 if we didn’t know much about the virus.

“We continued learning in the summer of 2020, and by the fall it was pretty clear that the virus wasn’t that pathological in children and that masking was key to preventing it from spreading from person to person,” Rosen said.

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