August 8, 2020

COVID-19 Death Toll: “It Is What It Is.”— President Donald J. Trump.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

And he is, who he is.

And because he is who he is, “it” is so much worse than “it” had to be. And to be clear the “it” to which I refer are the 165,000 dead Americans, or, to be more specific, the tens of thousands of Americans who were claimed by Coronavirus because the Trump Administration bungled essential early testing, and because the President denigrated the need to wear masks, and because the President has denigrated, and still denigrates the importance of testing, and because the President assured the country at the very moment the virus was about to catastrophically accelerate that it would soon be at zero new cases, and because the President huckstered medicines and treatments not approved for treating COVID-19, and because the President still insists that we’ve done “wonderfully” and because every utterance concerning this deadly contagion has been predicated on a self-serving political calculation rather than an urgent public health imperative. He has even consistently highjacked the White House coronavirus briefings and transformed the briefings into crude self-serving rambling, disjointed, often off-the-cuff, political stump speech harangues.

He has the temerity to grade his effectiveness in dealing with the pandemic as “spectacular.” Well, in a sense, it certainly has been spectacular.

He often refers to his decision to cut off flights to and from China as spectacular and bold, and a decision no one else was willing to make. Well, not quite. American Airlines canceled China flights on January 31st, Delta Airlines, on February 2nd and United Airlines, on February 5th. Spectacular? Hardly. Here are the dates other national airlines began canceling flights to and from Chinese cities.

January 23rd – Japan’s All Nippon Airways and Taiwan’s Cebu Pacific and China Airlines.

January 24th – Thailand’s Thai Airways, Hong Kong’s Cathay Dragon Airlines, Malaysia’s Air Asia, Korea’s Korean Air.

January 29th – United Kingdom’s British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines, Switzerland’s Swiss International Airlines.

January 30th – Canada’s Air Canada, South Korea’s Eastar Jet, France’s Air France, Italy’s Neos Airlines, Israel’s El Al Airlines, Netherland’s KLM Airlines.

But the sad, heartbreaking and inescapable conclusion that will eventually punctuate all serious future discussion of this public-health disaster will be that it didn’t have to happen this way, that far too many of these deaths—these lost American souls, were lost to a combination of failed national direction and inconsistent, ad hoc, every-state-on-its-own leadership.  

As of this morning, Coronavirus deaths in the United States (165,000+), all since February 6th, are equivalent to twenty-five percent of all recorded combat deaths (666,441), excluding military deaths from non-combat causes, in all of the wars the United States has fought since the outbreak of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775. Let that sink in.

Recent studies published in NATURE confirm the astonishing effectiveness of early aggressive government interventions in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Elsewhere, Isaac Sebenius, a molecular and cellular scientist, and James K. Sebenius, a professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, write in STAT, an open-access journal of the International Statistical Institute, that had the United States implemented the same decisive early measures as had South Korea, Australia, Germany, and Singapore, all of which had the same information the U.S. had, at least 70% of the American deaths from Coronavirus might have been avoided.

To compare each country’s responses to the pandemic on a consistent basis, they turned to the work of the Oxford University team that constructed a stringency index based on policy responses (lockdowns, testing, etc.) to measure how strongly each country responded over time. The Oxford index shows that 14 days from the date of the 15th confirmed case in each country — a vital early window for action — the U.S. response to the outbreak lagged behind the others by miles. 

According to the authors, given the exponential viral spread of Coronavirus, the delay in action by the United States has been devastating (and certainly not “spectacular” as President Trump assures us). During the first four months following the first fifteen confirmed cases in the United States, 117,858 Americans died. During the equivalent period of time when the four countries referenced above took aggressive action and the United States dawdled, those countries experienced only a fraction of the deaths in relative terms to that experienced by the United States. Had the United States taken the same aggressive action like that taken by Germany, for example, the data suggests that 70% of U.S. coronavirus deaths might have been prevented. In fact, the collective data from all four of the countries that took effective immediate action indicate that 70% could have been the minimum reduction in American deaths.

Certainly, the potential 70% or greater reduction in American deaths from Coronavirus is not a precise statistic. It may have been somewhat greater and it may have been somewhat less. But what is a very reasonable conclusion is that we have lost tens of thousands of American lives that didn’t have to be lost.

President Trump is a veritable fountain of misinformation. It is questionable whether he conscientiously lies or simply internalizes and believes much of the nonsense he speaks. He insisted to Chris Wallace in a recent FOX interview that the United States had the lowest mortality rate of deaths from Coronavirus in the world. That, of course, is not even remotely correct, although we may have the lowest rate among the selected nations on the list Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany handed him.

To be clear, Scientists define “mortality rate” as a measure of how frequently death occurs within a defined population. So, let’s consider John Hopkins University’s calculations of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 population, a pretty standard measurement of mortality rate. The United States has the sixth highest mortality rate using this metric, behind the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Chile, and France. Sixteen other hard-hit nations had a lower mortality rate: Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Iran, Colombia, Germany, South Africa, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Argentina, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

Among advanced industrialized nations, six countries had higher mortality rates than the United States: Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and France. But 15 countries had lower mortality rates than the United States: Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Norway, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

Many Trump sycophants seem assuaged that most of the deaths have been among older Americans and that younger Americans have a much higher survival rate. That Coronavirus is deadlier for older patients is, of course, true throughout the world. That’s why Uganda with a median age of 15.9 years has the lowest Coronavirus mortality rate in the world. That’s statistically interesting, but as a measure of our effectiveness in dealing with the Coronavirus epidemic in the United States, quite irrelevant.

Estimates now hover around 250,000 to 300,000 American deaths by year’s end, and we’re certainly well on our way to meeting that awful projection. “It is what it is.” Spectacular indeed.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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11 responses to “COVID-19 Death Toll: “It Is What It Is.”— President Donald J. Trump.”

  1. As of 8:42 am this morning, the US Coronavirus death toll has been adjusted from 163,000+ to 165,000+ reflecting the current reporting by Worldometer, an internationally trusted real-time statistical reporting service.

  2. Stephen Prover says:

    This is a remarkably impactful and extraordinarily well-documented essay. Nevertheless, the Trump sycophants will now trot out their well worn Limbaugh/Levin/Savage/RNC talking points… It never fails… The issue here is not immigration, reproductive rights, or Joe Biden’s confinement to an extended care facility. This is life and death. We, as a nation, have failed miserably…

  3. Sheila says:

    Fareed Zakaria has devoted almost his entire show this morning on the coronavirus. He interviews Bill Gates at length on the reasons we have failed so abysmally at containing the virus. Gates cited inefficient lockdowns and also many of the reasons you cited. He also pointed out the horrific waste of government money on ineffective testing- due primarily to the fact that Trump insists that our testing is “the best in the world” and he therefore refuses to take steps to improve the testing infrastructure. The government would not listen to him when he approached them. One has to wonder why when it was clear that the virus was out of control.

    On the more hopeful side, Gates also talks about antiviral medications in the works in advance of an ultimate vaccine which will hopefully be available at the end of this year or early next year. Tragically, as you pointed out it didn’t have to be like this, and it is too late for those we’ve lost.

    We’ve now passed 5,000,000 cases in this country- which Zakaria points out is 25% of the world’S CORONAVIRUS cases, even though we have less than 5% of the world’s population. This number is mind boggling. And Trump claims that the virus is disappearing. Let’s just hope we can change “it is what it is“ to a new leadership in November.

  4. Sheila says:

    Clarifying: the government wouldn’t listen to Gates when he approached them. Tragically missed opportunities.

  5. Norman Wine says:

    Abysmal leadership is certainly at the forefront for the horrendous lost of life from this pandemic. Equally to blame are the countless citizens who care more for their first amendment rights then caring what’s best for the citizens of this country.

  6. Betty Wolf says:

    I will not comment on the President’s verbalizations.

    I will comment on the case numbers and reported deaths which have been inflated perhaps +/- 40%.

    CDC has, from the beginning after their epic testing fiasco, included pneumonia and seasonal flu deaths together with patients with supposedly only Covid19.
    It was stunning to hear Dr. Birx publicly said she did “not trust CDC”, which has been a failure and national embarrassment on numerous levels. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm

    Inpatients are tested for Covid19 and positives with comorbidities who die from/with other causes are not separated. I suspect this readership is aware that if the same person is tested multiple times, duplicates are counted as individual tests. Many people whom I have read about and others whom I know, report going to have an initial test, are turned away due to volume or waiting delay, only to get a mailing that their test was positive.

    The point is that we will never have accurate case counts or mortality data. Ever.

    As a parting comment, Hydroxychloroquine should be made available. Peer reviewed data demonstrates that it works when taken early with zinc, steroids and antibiotics. It is unconscionable to withhold any treatment restricting physicians from offering care.

    We have comfort having HCQ on hand.

  7. Stephen Prover says:

    Betty Wolf: Dr Brix made no such comment publicly… You did not hear this. It was REPORTED that Dr Brix, in a closed White House,
    meeting said she suspected the figures may be inflated by as much as 25% NOT 40%… Moreover, multiple public health experts across the United States have opined that COVID deaths have been under counted by as much as 50%

  8. Maryanne Vandervelde, PhD says:

    How I wish that we had a peer-reviewed, randomly-assigned study of what a President Biden would have done versus President Trump — or Bill Gates versus Trump, for that matter. I suspect that, given Biden’s limited government record over 50+ years and his misinformed statements in the past and present, the U.S. will have many MORE deaths, as well as a ruined economy, if he is elected in November versus Trump. Deep-state bureaucracies like the CDC, with its botched testing, need change. We also must account for the U.S. Constitution and the American character — both emphasizing freedom of choice versus government control. The novel coronavirus is a huge leadership challenge, and I believe that Trump is by far the better candidate to “take it from here.”

  9. Roberta Conner says:

    Thank you Dr. Vandervelde. How refreshing it is to hear a learned response to this “piling on” essay which could have been written by anyone among the liberal masses who wish to blame current management for all of the pitfalls in their life.

    Hal, I would so rather hear your unique, astute and learned comments on something that perhaps only someone with your knowledge and perspective could do – and that is to opine on the appropriate future of our relationship with the CCP after what they have done to the rest of the world. How do we proceed? What about Hong Kong, Taiwan and the man-made islands China is building in Southeastern Asia?

    Please leave the obvious essay subjects to those with far less talent than yours.

  10. judy allen says:

    I agree with Betty Wolf on the errors in CDC counting…..nearly any death…. is and has been identified as COVID .

    I too believe that HCQ has been found to be effective….. And, ya gotta wonder who is using it…. as the inventory in our area is depleted ….

    Thankfully everyone that I know that has been treated by HCQ, zinc and antibiotic has survived and doing well.

  11. Stuart Goldfine says:

    I took the test, after making an appointment, and then waited 14 days for the results. If I were positive, I could have been dead. Test results need to be completed in 2-3 days.
    They told me at the test site to call a phone number in 10 days and I waited 40 minutes to speak to a person and they could not give me the results on the phone, so I waited four more days to receive the results in the mail.
    I don’t think CDC, Trump, or anyone knew how bad this was going to be, but less than 1% of Americans have died and many have recovered. We need to work together.
    Our nation needs to unite and kill the virus and unfortunately, about 30 to 40% of Americans will not even get shots to kill the virus.
    I personally was so scared of polio in the 1950’s, yet our country was not paralyzed and then Dr.Salk found the cure, yet no one knows how many did not get vaccinated at that time.

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