In a stunning interview that aired Monday night on HBO, President Donald Trump tried to defend himself on his handling of coronavirus by stating that the number of deaths in the United States as a result of the disease “is what it is.”
Trump was questioned how he could assert the pandemic was under control in light of the number of daily deaths “starting to go up again,” in the words of Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, who conducted the interview.
The president, however, persisted in claiming that the U.S. was doing much better than the rest of the world in terms of deaths. He handed Swan a chart showing deaths by country in proportion to the total number of cases each country had seen.
Swan explained he was trying to discuss deaths in proportion to the total country’s population, however. The U.S. is “much worse than South Korea, Germany, et cetera” on that metric, he said.
“You can’t do that,” Trump interrupted. “You have to go by — look, you have to go by the cases.”
“It’s certainly a relevant statistic to say, if the U.S. has ‘X’ population and ‘X’ percentage of death of that population,” Swan retorted.
“No, because you have to go by the cases,” Trump insisted.
Swan maintained that the president had to address the increasing number of daily deaths in the U.S. “A thousand Americans died today. I understand with cases, it’s different,” he said.
“No, but you’re not reporting it correctly, Jonathan,” Trump argued back.
The two continued to debate the issue, with Trump ultimately claiming that COVID-19 deaths in the country “are way down from where it was.” Swan pointed out, however, that deaths did indeed go down for a while, but are presently going back up again, to above 1,000 deaths per day in the United States.
Trump pushed back, but he also conceded that Americans were dying. However, the president used wording that seemed to imply he didn’t believe it was as big a deal as some were making it out to be.
“They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is,” Trump said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”
Many experts disagree that Trump has the situation under control, however. Trump’s actions in the past — or rather, his inaction in dealing with coronavirus early on — may have resulted in more deaths occurring in the country than were necessary. There also doesn’t appear to be a coherent national strategy going forward from the administration in how to deal with the disease in the next few months, other than waiting for a vaccine to be developed, a process that may take until the end of the year (if not longer) to happen.
A number of models project that deaths from coronavirus may go up between now and then, in ways that rival the worst weeks of the pandemic that we’ve seen so far. A projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in July suggested as many as 224,000 Americans could die between now and November 1.
Other projections, looking at more immediate outcomes, are also grim. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s expected that 11,000 Americans will die each week in the month of August. That would amount to a daily average of 1,571 deaths per day.
The United States leads the world in terms of raw numbers of cases reported, with more than 4.7 million cumulative diagnoses of the disease having been made since the start of March, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University as of Tuesday morning. In total, 155,478 Americans have died of the disease, though health experts warn that the number is likely an undercount.