We've watched as our incompetent commander-in-chief has treated a global pandemic with the same casual dishonesty and political manipulation as he would his own poll numbers, so it should shock no one that the White House is already maneuvering to deflate the stated American death toll from the coronavirus in order to protect the president's reelection chances.
On Thursday, President Trump was, in the same breath, praising the country's widespread testing efforts and saying that this testing is "frankly, overrated." His reason, of course, is that high confirmed case counts are making the U.S., and his leadership, look bad, and he wants that to stop.
And he seemed to be trying to make the case that other countries case counts aren't as high because we're now testing more than they are.
"We have more cases than anybody in the world, but why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said, while speaking Thursday at a Pennsylvania medical equipment distribution center. “When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don’t want to write that. It’s common sense. We test much more."
Now, as the Washington Post reports, the White House appears to be on a concerted campaign to keep the ultimate American death toll from COVID-19 from rising above what Trump previously — moronically and without scientific basis — claimed it would be. And it's clear that when it comes time to talk about death numbers in campaign speeches and debates, he will do everything he can to fudge the numbers or claim they're an overcount.
Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have been saying, if anything, we are likely undercounting deaths due to the number of people dying at home without seeking medical attention, or those who did not get confirmed test results before dying of a condition exacerbated or brought on by the virus. As of today, the U.S. has seen 86,000 deaths, and the country has been adding between 1,000 and 2,500 deaths per day for the last 10 days.
Today, Senator Kamala Harris and four of her colleagues sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expressing their concern that the Trump administration is doing the same thing it did with morbidity data after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and doing everything they can to deflate the numbers. This letter follows on one that Harris sent on May 1, and adds to the public record on this issue.
"Unfortunately, over the last two weeks, we have seen a misinformation campaign coming from the White House surrounding the COVID-19 death numbers, claiming the death count has been inflated," Harris and her colleagues say. "President Trump has publicly suggested that there are far fewer deaths than currently reported and reports indicate that administration officials asked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials to exclude individuals from the official death count who were presumed positive or who may not have died as a direct result of contracting the virus."
Axios reported on May 6 that Trump and his top aides had been publicly questioning the accuracy of the death toll, noting that an official said Trump had privately been saying that New York's death count seemed inflated.
A senior official denied that Trump was skeptical of the death count, saying, "Skepticism isn't the right way to frame it. The numbers have been revised up to include presumptive cases — meaning deaths that are believed to be related to COVID but not known for sure. So he's expressed the need to properly convey that to American people so they're not startled by why numbers ticked up."
The CDC has reportedly pushed back on the administrations requests to revise its methodology, and Fauci and others have been contending that the current totals are likely an undercount because of the marked difference in the number of deaths occurring in various localities compared to the same period in previous years.
The New York Times reported two weeks ago on these gaps between current death counts for March and April in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Massachusetts and those in the previous five years, showing huge differences that can likely be attributed either to unconfirmed COVID-19 cases, or to the indirect impacts of the pandemic on hospitals and emergency rooms that have caused people either to avoid seeking treatment for other problems, or to receive inadequate or delayed treatment at overwhelmed medical facilities. Sorting those numbers out may never be satisfactorily done, or it may take a long time for experts to better estimate the COVID deaths that were not documented.
Writing in the Washington Post, Greg Sargent points to the importance of Harris and Senators Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Edward Markey, and Sherrod Brown making sure that more public attention gets paid to the White House's shady dealings around the death count. Because, as he writes, "This dispute is far from an academic one. If we undercount deaths, it will create the impression that the coronavirus is less dangerous than it really is, leading to an overly rapid reopening by state governments and less care taken by all of us as individuals."
The letter is asking the government agencies to establish "clear, unambiguous guidelines led by science and data on how to correctly count COVID-19 mortalities," because otherwise, "inconsistent numbers and misinformation will impact government accountability, how resources will be allocated, and how we recover from this crisis."
Of course, Trump is a short-term thinker, and he mostly just wants to get to early November without the political hit of 100,000+ Americans dead from a virus that he went on television multiple times to deny the threat of. And this is also an act of desperation from an administration that has faced a hundred dumpster fires since this man took office, and this global tragedy is one he is desperate to blame on anyone and everyone besides himself, including Barack Obama.
Trump did not cause the pandemic, but if he were a smarter man he would have recognized the virus threat when it was first presented him, acted more swiftly to warn Americans and shut down the economy, and taken a leadership role in slowly guiding the country to pandemic resilience. He could have saved lives, and he still could, but he's doing everything he can to save face instead, including lying about how many people are dead.
Unfortunately, for now, the majority of the dead are in states that were never going to help him get elected anyway. But that may change by fall, or at least there may be more places in Trump Country that get a first-hand look at the viciousness and political blindness of this virus. Good luck to everyone in a mad hurry to go bowling and get their hair cut again.