'Skeptical': Ernst suggests COVID numbers are inflated

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In this image from video, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks from Des Moines, Iowa, during the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.(Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)

WASHINGTON – Echoing a discredited conspiracy theory, vulnerable Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is suggesting government statistics on coronavirus infections and deaths have been inflated.

Ernst, who is facing an unexpectedly tough reelection fight, made the comment after a man at a campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa, said he believes the numbers of cases and deaths are much lower than reported. Experts refute that and new data suggests that the toll is probably significantly higher than the official count.

Ernst said she, too, is “so skeptical” of the official numbers.

“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 said to the crowd on Monday, according to a report by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the disease has infected more than 6 million people in the U.S. and killed about 185,000 Americans. Of those deaths, 1,125 were reported in Iowa, according to the state website at midday Wednesday.

Asked later what she meant, Ernst said she was repeating what she's heard.

“I heard the same thing on the news. ... They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19. ... I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Later Wednesday, Ernst said in a statement, “Over 180,000 Americans have died because of covid-19,” adding that “what matters” is that Iowa gets the resources it needs.