AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s misfires on virus death rates, tests

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a grim reality of surging coronavirus cases, President Donald Trump is making premature assertions about relatively…

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a grim reality of surging coronavirus cases, President Donald Trump is making premature assertions about relatively low death rates in the U.S. and revising history about how seriously he viewed the threat, including the need for ventilators.

A look at his claims:


TRUMP: “So we have more cases than anybody, but we’re doing really well, and we also have a very low — relative to other countries — very low mortality rate. And there are reasons for that.” — interview Monday with “Fox & Friends.”

TRUMP: “We’ve been doing more test — tests than any other country anywhere in the world. It’s one of the reasons that we have more cases than other countries, because we’ve been testing. It’s also one of the reasons that we’re just about the lowest in terms of mortality rate.” — news briefing Sunday.

THE FACTS: His suggestion that the U.S. response is better than other countries’ because its mortality rate is “just about the lowest” is unsupported and misleading.

It’s too early to know the real death rate from COVID-19 in any country. Look at a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, and you can divide the number of recorded deaths with the number of reported cases. But that math provides a completely unreliable measurement of death rates, and the Johns Hopkins tally is not intended to be that.

First, the count changes every day as new infections and deaths are recorded.

More importantly, every country is testing differently. Knowing the real denominator, the true number of people who become infected, is key to determining what portion of them die. Some countries, the U.S. among them, have had trouble making enough tests available. When there’s a shortage of tests, the sickest get tested first. And even with a good supply of tests, someone who’s otherwise healthy and has mild symptoms may not be tested and thus go uncounted.

The result is a hodgepodge of numbers that get sorted out as the crisis diminishes. Indeed, initial death rates were thought to be as high as 4% in parts of China. But a report published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases calculated that 1.38% actually is the best estimate of deaths among confirmed cases across China and that accounting for unconfirmed cases could drop that rate below 1%.

U.S. infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has estimated that the death rate in the U.S. might hit around 1%, which would be 10 times higher than mortality from a typical flu season.

Whatever the actual percentage, the more people who become infected, the higher the numbers of deaths, one reason authorities are stressing social distancing measures to stem the virus’ spread and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by a surge of patients. And in each country, the age and overall health of the population are factors, too. Italy, for example, has the world’s second-oldest population, and seniors are at an especially high risk of death.



TRUMP: “I get on calls, and I get on a lot of the governor calls where we’ll have all 50 governors plus where we have some territories also, but we have 50 governors. And I’ll tell you what, if you could listen to those calls, you’d never hear a complaint.” — interview with “Fox & Friends.”

THE FACTS: That’s false, by his own accounting. He’s complained about the complaints of governors. And The Associated Press has heard governors complaining to Trump privately on the phone.

“Some of these governors take, take, take and then they complain,” Trump groused in an interview Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.” Of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, he said, “All she does is sit there and blame the federal government.” And he said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, also a Democrat, “should be doing more,” adding, “He’s always complaining.”

“You know,” Trump said from the White House, “we don’t like to see the complaints.”

On a private conference call Thursday with governors, Inslee urged Trump to use his full authority to spur production of necessary medical equipment, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by the AP. Trump replied that the federal government is merely the “backup.”

“I don’t want you to be the backup quarterback; we need to be Tom Brady here,” Inslee replied, invoking the football star.

The nation’s governors have been pressing the president to do more to bolster supplies, despite the perceived risks of speaking out. They have pleaded with him to use the Defense Production Act to force companies to manufacture critical equipment and begged for help in obtaining supplies like masks and testing agents.

On Friday, Trump told reporters that he wants governors “to be appreciative” of…

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