WRAL accuses Republican lawmakers of perpetuating COVID-19 conspiracy theories

State Rep. Dr. Perrin Jones talks to voters in Greenville.

RALEIGH – Last week, WRAL accused state Rep. Perrin Jones (R-Pitt) and other Republican lawmakers of perpetuating “social media rumors” and “conspiracy theories” about COVID-19 data. 

In an article dated Aug. 11, Jones, an anesthesiologist at Vidant Health in Greenville, said a number of his patients who tested positive for COVID-19 originally came to the hospital for a reason other than COVID-19. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Mandy Cohen responded to Jones that this scenario only happens among “less than 2%” of hospital patients across the state.

Cohen’s statement contradicts previous North State Journal reporting, that adult COVID-19 patients took up only 18.7% of in-use ICU beds at the time NCDHHS began publishing more detailed hospitalization data. Still, the Cooper administration refuses to provide data that would back Cohen’s claims that incidental COVID cases are “low.”

As of noon, Aug. 22, Vidant Health listed 75 COVID-19 hospitalizations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean COVID-19 is the original reason for those hospital visits, Jones told NSJ. Three or four of his own patients, as he told Cohen last week, were diagnosed with COVID-19 only as an incidental finding.

Jones added that he supports efforts to research various COVID-19 treatments and that interjecting narratives “confounds the scientific process.”

“I do think it would be good for people in general to ratchet down some of the rhetoric so we can approach this less from a position of fear and panic and more from a position of reason and logic,” Jones told NSJ. 

In contrast with Jones, Cohen has not worked in a clinical setting since 2012, where she served as an “internist.”

WRAL also labeled state Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist, after he said he believes some recent hospital deaths have been misreported as COVID-19 deaths. While it would be difficult to gather statistical evidence on whether or not this claim is true, some anecdotes do exist.

Last month, for example, a man in Florida was counted as a COVID-19 death after dying in a motorcycle accident. “You could actually argue that it could have been the COVID-19 that caused him to crash,” Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino told FOX 35. The department later said it had removed the individual’s name from the COVID-19 death count. 

When Blackwell asked whether hospitals are getting financial bonuses from COVID-19 deaths, Cohen said they were not.

“There are absolutely no bonuses for anyone for having COVID deaths,” she told lawmakers. “That is an absolute misnomer. That is not a true thing. And secondly, deaths are determined by doctors, clinicians. That is how they are reported to us.”

Congressman Dr. Greg Murphy (R-03), who voted for the CARES Act and spent most of his career in clinical and administrative healthcare positions, agreed hospitals “are not profiting” from helping COVID patients.

Medicare pays approximately $24,000 for COVID patients on a fee-for-service basis, Murphy said. 

“Even with the CARES act 20% add-on hospitals are not covering the additional costs associated with caring for COVID patients,” he said. “It is important to note that Medicare pays hospitals based on a diagnosis-related group (DRG) which is a standardized payment that encourages cost containment.”

Murphy added that N.C. hospitals have lost over $2 billion in revenue through July and spent an additional $1 billion on additional supplies and personnel. The CARES Act also created a $100 billion fund, which is partially used to fund healthcare providers to treat uninsured patients for COVID. That fund only makes up 30% of the costs hospitals have recently endured, Murphy said.