President Trump is reportedly trying to do with the official COVID-19 death toll what he did to his inauguration crowd size: tinker with the numbers.
According to a report in the Daily Beast, the President and some officials on the Coronavirus Task Force are pushing the Centers for Disease Control to change how it counts the number of people who have died from the virus to retroactively reduce the death toll.
The proposed revisions would reduce the numbers to below the current toll of more than 80,000, in part by excluding deaths of people who presumably died of COVID-19 without having tested positive.
The impetus behind that effort is Dr. Deborah Birx, according to the Daily Beast and a report in the Washington Post. Birx reportedly said at a task force meeting last week that “there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.”
This goes beyond being a simple statistical dispute, and instead comes as President Trump clings to the idea that keeping the numbers down — both of COVID-19 cases and deaths — could be a boon to his political fortunes in an election year, and could help make the case that it’s time for states to reopen.
As President Trump said on Monday, despite clear evidence to the contrary, “all throughout the country, the numbers are going down.”
Birx and Trump reportedly feel that the CDC’s decision to include deaths of people who expired after showing COVID-19 symptoms but who never tested positive unjustly inflates the death toll from the pandemic.
That conveniently ignores arguments from others, like Dr. Tony Fauci, and the vast majority of the country’s epidemiological community, who have pointed out that if, this method were to be used, the severely constrained supply of tests in the U.S. would determine the death toll. Fauci told Congress on Tuesday that the current death count is likely below the virus’s true toll.
Meanwhile, reports from around the country also continue to suggest that the CDC’s tally dramatically undercounts the true toll of COVID-19.
In states and areas heavily hit by the pandemic, death rates in 2020 have been far above the norm compared to previous years.
That’s most dramatically true in New York City. According to a CDC study released on Monday, the five boroughs have seen 24,000 more deaths this year than its usual baseline average.
Of those 24,000 dead, only 13,000 had tested positive for COVID-19.