clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump keeps lying about how the US Covid-19 situation compares to other countries. Here are the facts.

Trump’s strategy is to ceaselessly lie about the coronavirus and hope people either don’t notice or don’t care.

Trump speaks in Michigan on Thursday.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s rally on Thursday in Freeland, Michigan, illustrated how his coronavirus campaign message is basically to lie a lot and hope voters either don’t notice or don’t care.

The rally took place on a day when 36,000 new cases were reported across the country — a number many times greater than the roughly 1,900 that were reported in Germany, the 500 in Japan, or the 600 in Canada. There were more than 1,100 Covid-19 deaths in the US on Thursday, compared to 25 in France, 71 in Spain, and four in South Korea. Over the past week, out of European and Asian countries, only Spain has averaged more daily cases per 100,000 people than the US.

Yet Trump tried to convince his supporters, who crammed into an airplane hangar without social distancing and with very few masks, that things here are going great.

“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said. “You see what’s happening, you see the numbers are plunging. You see how good we’re doing relative to other countries and other parts of the world, but the fake news doesn’t like saying that, they don’t like telling you that.”

Later, Trump absurdly compared his coronavirus response favorably with Winston Churchill’s handling of the UK’s public temperament during World War II and claimed, “we have done probably the best job, certainly of any major country, anywhere in the world on the pandemic.”

While daily new cases in the US have steadily declined from a peak of over 70,000 in mid-July, it is not the case that numbers are “plunging,” and it’s possible they’ll start going back up as some schools reopen for in-person instruction and states like Florida reopen bars.

Trump isn’t helping matters by holding campaign rallies that double as potential superspreader events. But more broadly, his attempt to make people believe that other countries are envious of the coronavirus response he oversaw represents a particularly egregious attempt to turn reality on its head.

As my colleague German Lopez detailed this week, if the US had the same death rate as the European Union, roughly 84,000 of the more than 190,000 Americans who have now died would likely still be alive. And if the US had the same death rate as Canada, 109,000 Americans would still be alive.

The key figure to put things in context is that the US has endured 22 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths, despite being home to only 4 percent of the world’s population. But to the extent that Trump engages with coronavirus data, he’s in the habit of cherry-picking false and misleading numbers about excess mortality or the case fatality rate in order to portray things in the rosiest possible light.

Trump’s PR campaign is based on easily disprovable lies

Trump’s Michigan rally came hours after a news conference in which he employed another of his various misleading talking points about Covid-19: downplaying how bad the situation is in the US by claiming other countries are in the same boat.

“If you look at the European Union right now, they’re having breakouts like you’ve never seen before,” Trump said. “Frankly, their numbers are at a level that are much worse than the numbers here. We have done much, much better than the European Union ... we have rounded the final turn.”

Not only has the US not done better than the European Union, but as the following chart illustrates, the death rate here is nearly twice as high.

Our World in Data

With the election less than two months away, Trump’s coronavirus response is now little more than a public relations campaign. He’s hoping a vaccine will be available sometime in the coming months, and he’s trying to get people to believe that up is down in the meantime.

Instead of applauding Democratic governors like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan who implemented public health measures that helped get outbreaks under control, Trump is traveling to their states, attacking them for not already fully reopening their economies and schools, and holding campaign events that make a mockery of the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing and could fuel future outbreaks.