FACT CHECK: Forest, Cooper trade claims on COVID risks for kids, masks

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Republican Lt. Gov Dan Forest said children don’t face serious risk from the coronavirus. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper credited the statewide mask mandate for a summertime drop in new cases.

Both candidates for governor made some questionable claims during their lone debate before Election Day.

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CBS 17 took a closer look at some of the key claims in their gubernatorial debate as part of our political pledge to test the factual accuracy of public communications offered by candidates, political action committees or partisan groups.

THE CLAIM: “Our kids are not even at serious risk from coronavirus. Seventeen times more likely to die from the seasonal flu than they are from coronavirus. Kids are not impacted.” — Dan Forest.

THE FACTS: Campaign spokesman Andrew Dunn confirmed to CBS17.com that the “17 times” figure came from a June 12 editorial in the Wall Street Journal. It cites a study from May from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a non-profit, conservative-leaning think tank. 

The pertinent quote from the editorial headlined “The Covid Age Penalty:”

“Children under age 14 are between 6.8 and 17 times less likely to die of COVID-19 than the seasonal flu or pneumonia, assuming 150,000 coronavirus deaths this year.”

But that assumed death total turned out to be a vast undercount, with that total approaching 225,000 in the United States.

The authors of the study have since updated their numbers with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from Sept. 9.

They found that while those under the age of 25 are “at a significantly lower risk of death from COVID-19 than the flu,” the proportions have changed.

They conclude that school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 14 have a 1 in 200,000 chance of dying from the flu compared to a 1 in 1.1 million chance of dying from COVID-19 — a difference of 5.5 times, not the 17 that Forest cited.

But while those numbers are off, doctors and even Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen agree with Forest’s general observation that children typically get less sick from COVID-19. In North Carolina, only one child younger than 18 has died of the disease.

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THE CLAIM: “When I mandated masks, our cases leveled off, but then Dan Forest lied to the public and said masks don’t work. He even sued me to stop our safety measures.” — Cooper.

THE FACTS: Cooper is implying a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the mask mandate and the drop in cases over the summer. But while there is an apparent correlation, there might not yet be enough available evidence to make such a definitive claim.

CBS17.com has been independently tracking the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases.

That figure was at 1,288 on June 26, the day the mask mandate went into effect, and climbed to 2,046 on July 18 — before steadily dropping until mid-August.

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THE CLAIM: “Half of the deaths in North Carolina have come from nursing homes.” — Forest.

THE FACTS: This used to be true, but isn’t anymore. As of Thursday, the state’s nursing homes account for 40.5 percent of the total COVID-19 deaths — 1,571 of the 3,874.

That percent share has gone down, either because nursing homes are becoming better equipped at treating COVID-19 patients and limiting the spread, or because deaths have increased for people who don’t live in nursing homes.

They accounted for 53 percent of the state’s deaths due to COVID-19 near the end of May, and that number dropped to 49.1 percent by the end of June.

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