US President Donald Trump has claimed coronavirus deaths in the United States are “way down”, while his son Donald Jr says deaths are now at “almost nothing”.
Neither assertion is true.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the US reported 88,521 new confirmed infections yesterday, which is the highest daily total since the pandemic started.
It also recorded another 971 deaths, roughly in line with the daily average in recent weeks.
For context, the US is currently averaging more deaths each day than Australia has suffered throughout the entire pandemic.
More than 40,000 Americans are currently hospitalised, and there are fears the death rate is about to spike, as fatalities have been known to lag behind cases by several weeks.
Donald Jr appeared on Fox News last night, where he was interviewed by Laura Ingraham.
She asked the President’s son to react to comments by CNN’s chief medical commentator, Dr Sanjay Gupta, who yesterday reported 82 per cent of Trump’s campaign rallies had been followed by an increase in infections in the local area.
Each rally draws thousands of the President’s supporters, who stand in close proximity to each other with no social distancing. The vast majority of attendees do not wear face masks.
“These rallies should not be happening,” Dr Gupta said.
“Don’t go. Don’t go to these rallies. Just about anywhere in the country now, if you go to a gathering that is several hundred people, it’s without a doubt the virus is attending that rally with you. If you are clustered close together, you don’t know who is carrying the virus, and you don’t know how many people are carrying the virus.
“You are putting yourself at risk.”
He advised anyone who had already attended one of Trump’s rallies to assume they had been exposed to the virus and self-quarantine for 14 days.
“You’re going home to your family, to your friends. You may infect community members. If you go to an event like that, right now, with the amount of virus that is spreading in this country, you have to assume that you’ve had some sort of exposure,” Gupta said.
Donald Jr didn’t think much of that advice.
“These people are truly morons. You know what I mean?” he told Ingraham.
“I like how they go after Scott Atlas because he’s not an epidemiologist, but Sanjay Gupta now magically is. I mean give me a break.”
Gupta is a neurosurgeon, and has been involved in medical journalism since 2003.
Dr Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist, is a controversial member of the White House’s coronavirus task force. He has questioned the effectiveness of face masks and argued in favour of a herd immunity strategy, alarming other experts on the task force.
Such a strategy would involve allowing the virus to spread through most of the community while trying to protect the most vulnerable, such as the elderly.
“I mean the reality is this. If you look – I put it up on my Instagram a couple of days ago, because I went through the CDC data, because I kept hearing about new infections. But I was like, why aren’t they talking about deaths?” Donald Jr continued.
“Oh, because the number is almost nothing, because we’ve gotten control of this thing. We understand how it works. We have the therapeutics. If you look at this, look at my Instagram, it’s gone to almost nothing.”
In his Instagram post, Donald Jr posted a chart from the CDC showing Covid death rates. He wrote: “Why isn’t the ACTUAL data from the CDC being discussed? Why is the media only talking about cases going up (because we are testing) more but the real numbers that matter, namely the death rate, are way down?”
He neglected to mention, or perhaps did not notice, multiple warnings on the CDC website that its data on recent deaths is incomplete, as unlike other organisations, it must wait for formal death certificates to be completed and processed. That can sometimes take months.
“The number of deaths reported in this table are the total number of deaths received and coded as of the date of analysis and do not represent all deaths that occurred in that period,” the agency warns.
“Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes.
“This delay can range from one week to eight weeks or more, depending on the jurisdiction and cause of death.”
The result is that CDC data always shows the death rate dropping sharply in the most recent weeks, and has done throughout the entire pandemic. It’s a mirage.
President Trump backed up his son’s false claims on Twitter this morning, saying deaths from the virus were “way down”.
Meanwhile, the Trumps’ critics online slammed them for spreading misinformation.
“Don Jr is an idiot,” vented epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding.
“Bastardising mortality statistics that have a well-known lag is just so on-brand for him.”
Donald Jr’s comments drew an angry reaction on US cable network MSNBC. Early morning host Kasie Hunt played them after returning from an ad break on her programme Way Too Early.
“That was Donald Trump Jr, falsely claiming that the death toll has dropped to, quote, almost nothing, on the same day that the US saw one of the highest levels of coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic,” Hunt said.
“We would just like to say here that, to those of you that lost loved ones to Covid yesterday, your loved ones are not nothing to us.”
Dr Vin Gupta, a lung specialist and critical care physician, also responded scathingly. He cited a grim forecast by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“My institute has been actually right on point with its models, sadly so for the country,” Gupta told MSNBC.
“We are anticipating up to 2300 deaths every single day by the turn of the calendar year. We are expecting, and this is concerning to me as an ICU doctor, 18 states to exhibit extreme stress when it comes to their ICU capabilities.
“Either they will not have the staff or they will not have the beds. And I think you know what that means. It means people will die.”
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