US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams on Sunday said he has "no reason to doubt" the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid-19 death toll, contradicting President Donald Trump's claim that the agency has "exaggerated" its numbers.
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U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams (2nd L) speaks as President Donald Trump (L) and first lady Melania Trump (R) look on during a reception in the East Room of the White House February 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump and the first lady hosted a reception to celebrate the National African American History Month with leaders and representatives from the African American community. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
"From a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers," Adams told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" when asked about Trump's claim.
"And I think people need to be very aware that it's not just about the deaths, as we talked about earlier," he added. "It's about the hospitalizations, the capacity. These cases are having an impact in an array of ways and people need to understand there's a finish line in sight, but we've got to keep running toward it."
Earlier Sunday, Trump claimed on Twitter that the number of cases and deaths of the "China Virus is far exaggerated" because of the CDC's "ridiculous method of determination" compared to other countries, which "report, purposely, very inaccurately and low."
"'When in doubt, call it Covid,' " Trump wrote in a tweet.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, also pushed back against the President's claim on Sunday when asked about it, telling ABC News that "the deaths are real deaths."
"In many areas of the country, the hospital beds are stretched. People are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel who are exhausted right now," Fauci said. "That's real. that's not fake. That's real."
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Trump complained later Sunday about the public's approval of Fauci's job performance, writing in a tweet that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "works for me ... and I am in no way given any credit for my work."
Trump and Fauci have had an at-times rocky relationship during the pandemic, with the top infectious disease expert occasionally criticizing the President's actions related to the crisis and Trump openly trashing Fauci and suggesting in early November that he might fire him after the election.
The President has before retweeted social media conspiracy theories, saying that only a small percentage of the people reported to have died from coronavirus really did die from the virus.
CNN reported In September that the CDC had to double down against rumors suggesting that coronavirus deaths have been greatly exaggerated, with the agency's top expert on mortality saying people are misinterpreting standard death certificate language.
"In 94% of deaths with COVID-19, other conditions are listed in addition to COVID-19. These causes may include chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension," Bob Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the CDC, said in a statement at the time.
"In 6% of the death certificates that list Covid-19, only one cause or condition is listed," the statement added. "The underlying cause of death is the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person's death. In 92% of all deaths that mention Covid-19, Covid-19 is listed as the underlying cause of death."
The comments from Adams come as the pandemic continues to rage while the Trump administration oversees a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout. Cases have skyrocketed after the Thanksgiving holiday, and while impacts from Christmas and New Year's celebrations are still unfolding, at least 123,639 people nationwide were in the hospital with the virus on Saturday, marking 32 consecutive days that the number of hospitalizations has exceeded 100,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Adams, when pressed Sunday about his projection in December that there would be 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of 2020, defended the administration's handling of the rollout, even as just 4 million people in the US have been given a shot.
"The projections we were putting out were based on what we could control at the federal level. We did deliver on 20 million doses delivered. You're always going to have more doses allocated versus delivered. Delivered versus shots in arms," he told Tapper, adding that the vaccines came "in the midst of the surge. And a lot of the local capacity to be able to vaccinate was being used for testing and to respond to surges."
"I want everyone to know that over the next week or two is when we should be paying attention closely and making sure we continue to see this ramp up. And I expect that it will," Adams said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.