Trump Lies about U.S. Mortality Rates

Yesterday, as the country was engulfed in a conflagration of coronavirus, Donald Trump had this to say:

“We have one of the lowest mortality rates anywhere,” the president said before pivoting to an attack on Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee.

I went to Worldometer to look at how different countries are doing in their fight against COVID-19. In the table showing statistics for each nation, if you click on the header labelled “Deaths/1M population” it will sort the table by deaths per capita, in either ascending or descending order as you please. Deaths per capita — the total mortality rate — is an important clue who is doing best and who is doing worst.

I’ll skip the countries that are so tiny they’re not really countries (with only 33,785 people, San Marino couldn’t fill an NFL football stadium).

Contrary to Donald Trump’s alternative reality, the U.S. is not one of the lowest. Not even close. We’re 7th-highest, i.e. 7th-worst, after Belgium, the U.K., Spain, Italy, Sweden, and France. 7th-highest out of almost 200 countries, is not “one of the lowest.”

Which makes Donald Trump seem stupid. But wait! Maybe … maybe he wasn’t talking about the total mortality rate, but about the current mortality rate. The total is all about what you’ve been through this whole time, while the present is about what you’re going through right now.

I selected 18 countries to investigate, including all of those at the top of the total-mortality list. Using data from Johns Hokins, I fit a smooth curve to the daily mortality data, to estimate its present average value, the current mortality rate.

If we grade countries this way, Belgium is no longer the worst; it’s one of the best. They lost many lives — very many — early in the epidemic, but they got control over the disease and now have one of the lowest mortality rates anywhere. Maybe when Donald Trump talked about mortality rates, he meant to say “Belgium”?

And is the U.S. still 7th-worst? No, it’s now 3rd-worst. Right behind Brazil and Mexico. 3rd-highest out of almost 200 countries, is not “one of the lowest.”

It’s time to remove Donald Trump from office. We can’t wait until the election to replace him, because the direct cause of the tremendous mortality rate in the U.S. — one of the highest in the world by any measure — is Donald Trump. It’s his fault. Don’t let it be our death.

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23 responses to “Trump Lies about U.S. Mortality Rates

  1. Susan Anderson

    While this is a good evaluation, don’t forget that state actors are better at lies on death statistics. Therefore, more honest countries are at a disadvantage there. I suspect, for example, that Belgium is one of those. And the UK, despite its vast failings, also bumped up the death stats by using a more realistic metric. Though none of them are counting excess deaths.

    Meanwhile, autocrats, including Trump, are doing their possible to stop counting COVID deaths.

    • The UK Covid-19 mortality numbers presented in the likes of WorldoMeter (so reported as 45,053 as I write, or 664/1M pop) are the product of a reporting system that creates a regular blizzard of numbers which seem designed to confuse. (As so often with the pronouncements of this BorisJohnson/DominicCummings-led government, it reminds me of the Orwellian phrase “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”)

      To attempt some sort of comparison of this UK.GOV 45,053=664/1M pop number (which is for the death toll of people tested positive) with the one equivalent to the Belgian 844/1M pop number (people with Covid-19 on the death certificate), it requires taking the England & Wales part of the UK.GOV number for a few days back and comparing these UK.GOV numbers with the latest-published Office for National Statistics (ONS) numbers (daily comparisons are helpfully provided within ONS-published weekly data).
      This bumps up the numbers by 23% (from 41,156 to 50,548,) so pro rata from 664/1M pop to 817/1M pop.
      The ONS also provide the ‘excess deaths’ numbers but not quite so promptly, so the equivalents are a little older (yielding UK.GOV ‘tested’ mortalty 40,484, ONS Covid certificate 50,016 [+24%], excess deaths 58,873 [+45%]).
      True to its Orwellian nature, the Boris Cummings government deflect the poor UK Covid-19 comparisons with other countries by declaring the ‘excess deaths’ as the ‘gold standard’ comparison , but then never accepting any attempts to present such a comparisons.

  2. Three or four months ago it was true that *some* of these same countries had higher mortality rates per million than the US (France and the UK, for example). But that was then, and things have moved on. Maybe someone is stuck in the past.

    • Frankly, I think “stuck in the past” is far too kind to Trump. He doesn’t need any basis in reality whatever to make an assertion; if he wants it to be true, then by gosh! it is true. In that sense he is a classic bullshitter: indifferent as to whether his statements are true objectively or not. For him, “objectively” is a meaningless term.

    • “Maybe someone is stuck in the past.”

      You mean like back when America was GREAT?

  3. I compared last week, for Belgium, Italy, Spain, the European Union and the USA, the daily COVID deaths per million

    with their daily cases per million:

    and begin to think that USA’s death toll might soon increase by a lot again.

    J.-P. D.

    • It’s happening: the last weekly cycle was the highest in 4 weeks, and the 1,001 deaths logged yesterday are the highest since June 9.

  4. I guess it’s impossible to know what Trump meant, and a big assumption to think he meant anything other than trying to paint his administration in a good light, regardless of the truth. However, another possibility is that he was talking about the fatality rate of closed cases (those that resulted in either death or recovery). I don’t know what the current rate is but, globally, that percentage is 7% (according to Worldometers) but the US rate is 8%, so the US is almost certainly in the bottom half of that particular table. Of course, he may also be talking about the naive case fatality rate, or the percentage of the current confirmed cases that are deaths. With the fairly recent spike in confirmed cases, this will clearly appear to be much lower than it used to be – until those hundreds of thousands of new cases have resolved.

    But who knows what Trump meant or even whether he understands what numbers he thinks he’s spouting?

    • You are making a pretty big assumption is you attribute any semantic content to a statement by Donald Trump. He is incapable of forming a simple English sentence. If he had his druthers, everything he said would be composed of superlative adjectives and first-person pronouns.

    • “But who knows what Trump meant or even whether he understands what numbers he thinks he’s spouting?”

      IMO, he doesn’t see any need to ‘understand’ because reality is what he declares it to be. That’s the postulate he begins from.

  5. Greg Wellman

    Hi Tamino,
    Belgium is counting in a more liberal way that possibly overcounts, unlike everyone else who is either undercounting somewhat (e.g. USA) or undercounting massively (e.g. Russia). If Belgium counted the way most countries count, they’d have a death rate pretty much equal to France, according to one article I read. I can’t re-find that, but here’s another on the same topic.

  6. Greg Wellman

    I figure as a true expert in stats, you’d be able to take a look at this and decide if it’s persuasive. I have to take their word for the analysis. The estimate is that as of May 30 the number of actual Coronavirus deaths in the US was most likely 28% higher than the number reported. They found some states much worse than others in this regard, with Texas and Arizona perhaps only reporting *half* of excess deaths as Covid-19. So (my extrapolation) if the epidemic is now relatively greater in those states now than it was before May 30 (yes) then that 28% number is drifting upwards and needs to be recalculated.

  7. Greg Wellman

    BTW, there’s a fantastic visual tool for running (trailing) 7-day average reported death rate by country at the FT. You can choose to highlight various countries, and mouseover identifies ones you haven’t hightlighted.
    It’s quite the indictment of the US response. Peru is even slightly worse off than Mexico and Brazil for current death rate.

  8. John Brookes

    Maybe Trump meant the death rate per confirmed case?

    • Well, reiterating, he needs no factual basis whatever, so ‘means’ never really applies. But FWIW, it isn’t even close being true that the US “death rate per confirmed case” is particularly low. (See Susan Anderson’s repeated comments on this–albeit her point has been that she is intensely skeptical (and with reason) about how low some of the other nations’ numbers are.)

      • Susan Anderson

        Thanks. I have rather ground that axe. I am also “intensely skeptical” about many US death numbers, and, of course, the aggregate. This has been enhanced by Trump and his nasty sidekicks:

        This report is relatively kind about muzzling the CDC and quite objective (do take a look if you’re interested), but I don’t buy it. Trump and his people (including several red state governors) have never made a secret of their efforts to insist numbers aren’t real.

  9. According to the Washington Post, Trump recently told his 20000th lie while in office. That is an average of about 16 lies a day, every day, and that doesn’t include his golf scores. Moreover he started out during his first year of so averaging about 5 lies per day. He’s now averaging over 20 per day. Not only has he not “pivoted” and become more Presidential, being President has made him a more reprehensible excuse for a human being than he already was! If he gets another 4 years, with no need to worry about getting re-elected, just imagine how bad he will become!

  10. Like John Brookes, I suppose that Trump didn’t mean daily or cumulative death toll either but rather spoke about cumulative case mortality.

    If you compute it for all countries and sort, according to that parameter, those having had more than 10,000 cases, you obtain this at top of the list:

    FR 17.3 (%)
    BE 15.5
    UK 15.4
    IT 14.4
    NL 11.9
    MX 11.6
    ES 11.0
    CA 8.1
    SE 7.3
    EC 7.3

    US and Brazil appear in the list at positions 26 and 27:
    US 3.9
    BR 3.8

    No wonder: they have had so incredibly many cases (and that is NOT due to testing, as UK for example had about 50 % more tests per M pop than the US, and Brazil 6 times less than the US).

    J.-P. D.

    • Apologies. The 2-letter acronyms above stand for:

      France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Sweden, Ecuador.

    • Probability our so-called president would take the time to understand ‘cumulative case mortality’: zero.

      However, it would be an excellent choice for a cherry-picker, as for the US, 1,915,175 of our 3,833,271 cumulative cases are still active as of writing (per Worldometers)–call it 50%. By definition, of course, the case mortality of active cases is precisely zero. Adjusting for that, you get US mortality in the 7.46 range.

      (By contrast, only 12,368 of Italy’s 244,216, or 5.2%, are active. It’s even lower for Canada. France is higher–35%ish, by a quick estimate.)

  11. The first 2 words of the title of this article were plenty. There was no need for any more.

  12. Just saw, on Al Jazeera, a clip of Trump’s interview with Fox News where he again repeated the claim. He was challenged on that and got his press secretary to get him the numbers; he looked at the piece of paper and said “Number one”. Well, I guess he just accepts what his people give him and his people give him what he wants to hear. How will this ever get any better?

    But an amazing thing is that there are still significant numbers of people who, in polls, think he’s doing a good job with Covid-19. I constantly shake my head that anyone outside his entourage could possibly form that opinion, though, of course, very few people think for themselves.