On what should be his first full day back at the White House since he was airlifted by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be treated for coronavirus last week, President Trump arrogantly and foolishly compared COVID-19 to the flu in a tweet riddled with falsehoods on Tuesday morning.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” Trump wrote. “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!!!”
Trump’s words, though incorrect, were consistent with what he said in a video on Monday evening after he had returned from Walter Reed. “Don’t let [coronavirus] dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it,” Trump insisted.
In fact, Trump’s figures on the flu are way off — from 2010 to 2016, estimates of yearly flu deaths never exceeded 51,000, and in fact, have averaged just over 34,000 deaths per year. If you add in the annual estimates for flu deaths from the past three years to that figure, the yearly average for the last nine years only increases to just 38,000.
By comparison, the coronavirus has resulted in more than five times as many deaths in less than 10 months this year. The president’s claim that Americans can “beat” COVID-19 must be particularly jarring to the millions of family members of the more than 215,000 people in the U.S. who have died from the disease so far. Current projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model, which has been cited by the White House in the past, predict close to another 150,000 Americans will die between now and New Year’s Day.
It’s not as if the president doesn’t understand that coronavirus isn’t deadlier than the flu — he admitted to knowing as much in recorded conversations with journalist Bob Woodward back in February, before the pandemic had taken off in the U.S. COVID-19 is even “more deadly than your, you know, your, even your strenuous flus,” Trump said back then, though he hid that fact from the American people even as he misled them with claims that COVID would simply “disappear” within weeks.
Trump himself is not “out of the woods,” according to his own medical team, with regard to his prognosis, which was announced to the public late last week. He was urged by his advisers to stay longer in the hospital rather than return to the White House on Monday. His presence back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not just potentially harmful to his own health but also puts staffers there at risk, as he remains infectious with the disease.
Morale among some at the White House appears to be low, as many staffers are getting sick and taking time off to quarantine themselves for 14 days. “Folks are dropping like flies over here. Shit is very crazy,” one White House official said of the situation. Many staffers are not even aware that they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive, often finding out through media reports that they have been exposed to the virus, according to sources at the White House.
While Trump may be trying to project strength through the crisis using his own experience with the disease, most Americans do not view his behavior in such high regard. After months of seeing Trump downplay the pandemic, mislead about the seriousness of the virus, and hold campaign rallies and events at the White House that were likely superspreader events, a new CNN/SSRS poll published on Monday finds that 63 percent of Americans believe the president has acted irresponsibly in handling the risk of infecting people close to him.
That same poll found that only 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while 60 percent disapprove of his performance in this crisis — his worst approval rating on the issue since the CNN/SSRS poll began asking the question.