McManus: Trump’s coronavirus numbers can’t be trusted
On Wednesday, the number of confirmed deaths in the United States from COVID-19 topped 92,000. By the end of next week, the number is likely to rise past 100,000. It will be an arbitrary milepost, but still a painful one.
Will President Donald Trump pause and ask the nation to mourn? Will he set aside an hour to console families that have lost loved ones?
Not if he sticks to his usual practice. Instead, he’ll look for a way to blame someone else — and blunt the number’s impact with statistics of his own making.
After all, this is a man who built a 58-story apartment building, named it Trump Tower, and advertised that it had 68 floors.
This is a man who has claimed that he won the presidency in a “landslide” when his electoral vote margin was well below the historical average.
This is a man who often claims his poll numbers are the best for any Republican president in history when he actually has a firm hold on sixth place among the six GOP presidents since World War II.
This is a man who, only last week, claimed that he had appointed 280 federal judges; the true number is 193.
Flagrant misuse of statistics has been Trump’s pattern during the coronavirus pandemic too — beginning in February, when he predicted that the number of confirmed cases in the country, then 15, would be close to zero “within a couple of days.”
The number is now over 1.5 million, but the president is still predicting good news ahead.
“The number of Coronavirus cases is strongly trending downward throughout the United States, with few exceptions,” he tweeted this week. Actually, the number of new cases is declining in the Northeast, but there’s no strong downward trend in most of the country.
The president’s favorite statistic this month has been the number of tests given. “Over 11 million tests, and going up fast. More than all countries in the world, combined,” he tweeted Monday.
But Trump’s comparison was wildly wrong.
His 11 million tests (now over 12 million) are not even close to the total for the rest of the world. Russia, Germany and Italy combined have done more than 13 million tests; the rest of the world has done at least 30 million.
Still, the president isn’t sure he likes tests as a measure — because tests bring bad news.
“We have more cases than anybody in the world,” he noted last week. “Why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
In any case, the real measure of any country’s success at quelling the pandemic is its death rate — the number of people who die per 100,000 in the population.
Trump has claimed falsely that the United States is winning by that benchmark, too.
“Germany and the United States are the two best in deaths per 100,000 people,” he said last week. “To me, that’s perhaps the most important number there is.”
But he’s wrong. Germany and the United States aren’t “the two best” on any list of countries.