In attempt to fact-check Cruz, PolitiFact argues claims he didn’t make, and apples-to-oranges statistics

PolitiFact has issued a “false” fact-check against a claim made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that illegal aliens crossing the border have tested positive with COVID-19 and are thus contributing to the rise in cases in Texas.

PolitiFact admits there is a factual basis to his claim that 7,000 illegal aliens who were COVID positive have been released through McAllen, Texas by the Biden administration. PolitiFact then asserts that Cruz is arguing that illegal aliens, not a lack of mask mandates in Texas, is what’s causing a spike in COVID cases.

Cruz himself was among the first to call out PolitiFact for its fact check.

Summary 

  • On August 4, Cruz said: “In the last several months, the Biden administration has released over 7,000 illegal aliens who were COVID positive just in one Texas city.” Biden’s border policies are “endangering not just the people of Texas, but people all across the country.”
  • PolitiFact declared Cruz’ statement “false.”
  • PolitiFact said Cruz’s statement is “false” because “Ted Cruz blames migrants, not mask policies, for Texas’ coronavirus problem.”
  • To support its premise, PolitiFact borrows from an interview Cruz did with Fox News, where he was asked if a lack of mask mandates in Texas has contributed to the state’s COVID rates. Rather than address whether mask rules are to blame, Cruz asserts a different (bot not mutually exclusive) variable is contributing to COVID rates, not just in Texas but throughout the country.
  • In its premise for declaring Cruz’s comments false, PolitiFact relies on an argument Cruz did not make, that a lack of masking does has no affect on COVID case numbers.
  • Cruz’s statement does not declare a lack of masking could have no affect on COVID rates.
  • PolitiFact argues that in a period spanning February to August of 2021, illegal aliens have had a 15% COVID positivity rate, while in July, Texas had an overall 18% COVID positivity rate. These statistics cover different periods of time and provide no additional consideration of confounding variables like whether or not illegal aliens are more likely to spread COVID if they have it, or if COVID-carrying illegal aliens who came to Texas between February and June contributed to the overall spike in Texas cases in July.

In an August 4th interview with Fox News, co-host John Roberts cited President Joe Biden in saying “that the lack of mask mandates is going to help the spread, saying that (Republican governors) need to lead or get out of the way.” Roberts asked Cruz to respond to that statement. Roberts asked, “With the cases spiking, senator, does he have a point?”

Rather than answer Roberts’ question, Cruz offered his own argument for what is contributing to COVID cases, infected illegal aliens.

“In the last several months, the Biden administration has released over 7,000 illegal aliens who were COVID positive just in one Texas city — in the city of McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley,” Cruz said. “Last week, the Biden administration released over 1,500 illegal aliens in McAllen who were COVID positive.”

“. . .I’ll tell you what,” Cruz added. “The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was a superspreader event because their open border is endangering not just the people of Texas, but people all across the country.”

Cruz’s comments about illegal aliens and COVID is not a direct response to the question Roberts asked about masking and COVID.

PolitiFact acknowledged Cruz did not adhere to Roberts’ prompt, because the fact-checking outlet wrote:

“Instead, Cruz focused on migrants who tested positive for the coronavirus.”

The affect of Cruz not outright answering Roberts’ question, and instead asserting another cause for the spread of COVID, is that Cruz would argue about a different point entirely and PolitiFact would then behave as though COVID cases could only be affected by a lack of mask mandate, or by infected migrants, but not both.

PolitiFact goes on to acknowledge there is a factual basis to Cruz’s figure of  7,000 illegal aliens infected with COVID who have been released from Border Patrol Custody.

From PolitiFact:

The 7,000 figure stems from a news bulletin released by the city of McAllen the same day as Cruz’s Fox News appearance. The bulletin announced local officials’ plans to erect a temporary emergency shelter in response to a “rapidly escalating surge of immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border.”

Housing and processing of migrants released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in McAllen has been managed by the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, a non-profit. Under Catholic Charities’ protocols, migrants are tested for COVID-19 after they are released by Customs and Border Protection.

Migrants who test negative for the virus are admitted to the non-profit’s Humanitarian Respite Center, where they can connect with relatives or sponsors living in the U.S. The temporary tent shelters erected by local county and city officials are designed to increase the Respite Center’s capacity to help keep immigrants “off the streets,” the city said.

Migrants who test positive for the virus are taken “to quarantine sites in the Rio Grande Valley area” for 10 days, the city said. “Once an immigrant has completed quarantine, they proceed on their final northbound travel out of McAllen.”

However, any migrant quarantining under Catholic Charities can choose to leave if a relative picks them up.

These paragraphs by PolitiFact attempt to argue that because Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials release illegal aliens in their custody to a third party organization, Cruz is wrong for claiming the Biden administration has released illegal aliens.

PolitiFact further argues because there is a stated quarantine policy for illegal aliens released by CBP officials (who fall under the umbrella of the executive branch, aka the Biden administration), COVID-infected illegal aliens are not being released; however, because the Biden administration is releasing COVID-infected illegal aliens to a third party, the fact of whether or not COVID-infected illegal aliens are being released is already accepted. The degree to which COVID-infected illegal aliens are then contributing to COVID cases is entirely dependent on the quality of a third party’s COVID protocols as well as how strictly they are being adhered to.

PolitiFact argues that the third-party group that is accepting these illegal aliens, Catholic Charities, has a 10-day quarantine period. As of July 29, 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people with COVID infections not be around others until it has been “10 days since symptoms first appeared and 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving.” Those perameters are more precises than those provided by Catholic Charities. Further, the CDC states, “People who are severely ill with COVID-19 might need to stay home longer than 10 days and up to 20 days after symptoms first appeared.”

Beyond the actual quality of Catholic Charities’ COVID quarantine protocols, there is also the provision that “any migrant quarantining under Catholic Charities can choose to leave if a relative picks them up.” If this is the case, a person released to Catholic Charities by the CBP, no matter how severe their COVID infection, could be out of quarantine within minutes of being released to Catholic Charities, if there is someone there to pick them up.

The PolitiFact acknowledges this Biden administration release of COVID-infected illegal aliens, and a provision within the quarantine policies of a third-party group that those people can leave whenever they choose if a relative picks them up” acknowledges that there is some underlying premise to Cruz’s argument.

PolitiFact continues to argue irrelevant points, including “that the current positivity rate of migrants released by Customs and Border Protection is around 15%” while Texas’ has recorded a statewide positivity rate of about 18% for the month of July. PolitiFact notes the 15% positivity rate is attached to a period of time in which the 7,000 infected illegal aliens were released (February to August 2021). Comparing an 18% positivity rate among an overall population over a 1-month period to a 15% positivity rate in a sub-population over a preceeding 6-month period, is not an effective way to statistically differentiate which populations are contributing to the spread of COVID and when.

In its article PolitiFact also noted that the month of July coincides with a particularly high spike in COVID cases in Texas, so using July as a key datapoint for Texas’ overall handling of COVID is going to skew the comparison against what level of COVID cases are being brought on by infected illegal aliens.

A 15% positivity rate among illegal aliens vs an 18% positivity rate for the entirety of Texas also does little to say about who is likely to spread COVID cases. Are COVID-infected illegal aliens more likely to travel in large family units than the average COVID infected Texan, and thus more likely to cause secondary and tertiary infections? Did COVID-infected illegal aliens who came through McAllen between February and June contribue to the overall spike in Texas cases in July? Each of these questions adds to the mix of confounding varaiables that PolitiFact does not address.

Furthermore, getting into the statistical arguments of what groups are causing the greater degree of COVID infections, ignores the fact that more than one group or factor can be causing these COVID infections. It could be true that maskless Texans and COVID-infected illegal aliens are adding to COVID cases in the state and beyond that state. Cruz’s statement does not set COVID-infected illegal aliens as the exclusive cause of COVID cases in Texas, or even the leading cause. only cause.

If PolitiFact’s argument is that only one variable can be contributing to spikes in COVID cases, they seem to be arguing that the lone variable for Texas is a lack of mask mandates. That argument, does not necessarily hold as accurate. Texas repealed is mask mandate in March of this year. So far, Texas has yet to see higher spikes in COVID cases since repealing the mask mandate than it had when it still had the mandate.

The New York Times’ record of Texas COVID cases through 2020 and 2021, shows Texas had spikes in COVID cases even when its mask order was still in place. In July of 2020 (when Texas still had a mask mandate in place), for example, the rolling seven-day average of COVID cases fluctuated between about 7,000 and 10,000 cases. In July of 2021 (the period primarily covered by PolitiFact’s article), the same seven-day average fluctuated between about 1,500 and 9,000. It is true, COVID case rates have continued to worsen in the months of August and September of 2021, but even still, the post-masking peak seven-day average for COVID cases in Texas was about 19,000 on September 4 of this year, less than the peak of about 22,000 on Janaury 12 when the Texas mask mandate was still in place.

In summation to this point, multiple variables can cause COVID cases to spike, and there have been similarly bad COVID peaks for Texas with and without a mask mandate.

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