Trump & Co. Gleefully Twist CDC COVID Stat To Artificially Lessen Death Count

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak to reporters during a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House July 21, ... WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak to reporters during a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House July 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump focused on his administration's handling of the global coronavirus pandemic. Poll numbers about his handling of COVID-19 have been falling as cases of the deadly virus have spiked across the country. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 31, 2020 4:42 p.m.
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On Monday, from behind the lectern in the White House briefing room, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany doubled down on a weekend retweet from President Donald Trump on CDC COVID-19 data that was so dangerously misleading that Twitter has removed it from the platform.

“The President was referring to new information from the CDC that shows that 94 percent of cases of fatalities were not just COVID alone, there was another comorbidity or extenuating matter, so he was just pointing to those numbers,” she said, adding: “He was highlighting new CDC information that came out that was worth noting.”

What he actually did was retweet the patently untrue assertion of a QAnon supporter that new CDC data contained a bombshell: only six percent of people died from COVID-19 alone, meaning that the death count and fear of the pandemic has been falsely inflated. On Sunday “only 6%” was trending on Twitter.


That interpretation of the data is simply wrong, and disregards the fact that in almost all cases, COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death. Epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz Katz gave a helpful analogy in a Medium article. If someone had lung cancer, underwent surgery to have part of the lung removed, then died of infection while in the hospital, the immediate cause of death would be the infection — but the underlying cause would be the cancer.

So too with COVID-19. A person could die of pneumonia while being hospitalized for COVID-19, but COVID-19 is still the underlying cause of death. The six percent statistic means that only a relatively small number of people die from COVID-19 without having any secondary conditions develop, or having other health conditions to begin with.

There have also been inconsistencies with how COVID-19 deaths are recorded state to state, and a lack of tests or test-confirmed deaths periodically threw a wrench in the works, making an undercount of COVID-19-caused deaths much more likely than an over-count.

But the fallacy of the claim hasn’t stopped team Trump from parroting it. 

Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser on Trump’s 2020 campaign, wildly took the misinterpretation as proof that “there is no pandemic.”

Supporters from the MAGA fever swamps have been echoing the same line as the campaign and White House.

Diamond and Silk, a Trump-loving YouTube duo who until recently made constant appearances on Fox News, claimed vindication.

Pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee Greg Locke, who has made headlines for his aversion to masked and socially-distanced services, bemoaned to his many social media followers the acquiescence of the sheeple who followed the CDC’s guidelines.

A particularly Trumpian candidate for office took up the party line as well.

Buzz Patterson, a candidate in California’s 7th district who supported QAnon until he didn’t, declared it high time to throw open the doors of business and schools.

The newest public exercise in bad faith is just a continuation of Trump’s oft-repeated wish: that the pandemic will go away by itself, and that in the meantime, it’s being overblown by his political enemies.

In reality, the country under his leadership hit its grimmest milestone yet on Monday: over 6 million COVID-19 cases, with more than 183,000 people dead.

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

TPM’s COVID-19 hub.
Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.
COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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