This edition of Coronavirus Facts is coming to you a day early because… well… *gestures broadly* all of this. First, White House staffers began testing positive for COVID-19, then President Donald Trump did as well, and ended up spending the weekend at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Misinformation spread quickly about Trump’s condition. There was the claim that he was being deliberately killed at Walter Reed (Pants on Fire!); that he boarded Marine One with a portable oxygen device (False); even one about a Simpsons episode that showed Trump in a coffin (Pants on Fire!). And the misleading information keeps on coming.
Less than 24 hours after checking out of Walter Reed, Trump tweeted and posted to Facebook the following claim: “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
In the U.S. so far this year, about 210,000 people have died from COVID-19.
But the typical range for the flu is significantly lower. The average number of deaths per year over the past decade has been 35,900. And even taking the high-end of the range for each year, the average is 51,800. That’s half Trump’s number.
Trump’s figure for the number of people who have died from seasonal flu is wrong on its face, and distorts the government’s actual estimates.
For the worst season this decade — 2017-18 — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the death toll at 61,000. Taking into account uncertainties in reporting flu deaths, the CDC offered a range of 46,000 to 95,000 deaths.
Facebook removed the post and Twitter hid it, with the following note: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” But, the Facebook post had already racked up 26,000 shares and more than 290,000 interactions before the takedown, according to data from CrowdTangle.
Clearly, we’re still in the middle of the COVID-19 infodemic the World Health Organization warned about earlier this year. But, PolitiFact continues to dig into coronavirus claims and put tweets from the president into context. Like the following post which has not been removed: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Trump may well celebrate, but his experience might not hold a lesson for the average American. For starters, few people who contract the disease would have access to the care Trump received. He was put under a doctor’s care immediately. He received an experimental drug to boost his immune response, another drug to slow the virus down, and a steroid to prevent inflammation that could damage his lungs.
Indeed, Trump’s latest take on his own illness pushed the limits of what medicine can promise.
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