It is sad that I need to write another piece on this. But it is needed. President Donald Trump is saying that his gut tells him the death rate is lower than it is. In fact, he is underestimating it by orders of magnitude. I was hoping it was lower, but at this point, the World Health Organization has settled on a death rate that is higher than the Spanish Flu Epidemic.
The 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic, sometimes referred to as the “Spanish flu,” killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including an estimated 675,000 people in the United States.1,2,3,4 An unusual characteristic of this virus was the high death rate it caused among healthy adults 15 to 34 years of age.3 The pandemic lowered the average life expectancy in the United States by more than 12 years.3 A comparable death rate has not been observed during any of the known flu seasons or pandemics that have occurred either prior to or following the 1918 pandemic.3
The WHO is now placing the death rate of this virus at 3.4 percent, and per VOX, which has a good explainer:
”Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing Tuesday. The rate describes the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases. And it was greater than the previous coronavirus CFR estimate (2 percent in China), far higher than the seasonal flu (which kills 0.1 percent of those infected on average), and even worse than the Spanish flu pandemic (which killed 2 to 3 percent of those infected).
It’s no surprise that, very quickly, media around the world interpreted the news as evidence the disease is deadlier than feared, and Twitter was buzzing with speculation about Covid-19’s real death rate. The confusion spread so far so fast, even President Trump took to Fox News to try and tamp down the worry: “I think the 3.4 percent number is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations … personally, I’d say the number is way under 1 percent.”
There is more granularity in the data. The Spanish Flu affected younger people worst than the elderly. In this virus those with underlying medical conditions, such as Diabetes, Cancer, or COPD at a higher risk. So are the elderly. For whatever reason, the young do get ill but present with a mild form of the disease. I am thankful for things like that.
The president has no excuse. He has access to top experts in the field, such as Anthony Fauci. His words also confuse a political base who was also told that they can go to work if sick. That is precisely the kind of wrong-headed advice that goes against all kinds of public health standards.
So why is he doing this? I mean, he could not be this willingly obtuse. Well, he actually can and is. Why?
His reelection depends on a good economy. To the president, the economy is Wall Street, which continues to bleed red. Moreover, we expect a recession in China for the first time in many years. And I will say it now, I expect one in the United States before long. Partly, yes if we have outbreaks, people will be mandated to stay home. Meaning, there goes the economic activity to keep the economy humming.
There are people who cannot afford to stay home, incidentally. This is also exposing the economic inequality in the country. But in reality for the president, this could be a very bad political result… He understands something in his gut. He has the presidency and if this gets bad (or rather when,) he will get the blame. Just like Bush got it for the 2008 crash which greatly helped Barack Obama.
This enters the realm of presidential politics, and he knows it. However, he is also attacking experts because they are experts and it is what populist leaders do. His base believes him and at one point the CDC, or local health authorities, will start canceling political rallies. This may include his rallies.
This is a normal public health decision taken by responsible public health authorities, but for Trump, this is cutting down his oxygen. There is more though. Even though Trump denies how bad this is, and the reality will soon hit the nation, his base believes him.
This will cost lives. As his base witnesses loved family members get sick and some will die, the reality will start to set in. This is more serious than the president told them. While public health and science, in general, should not be political, the president has made it so. This will cost votes.
The other reality is that whoever is at the helm during a crisis gets unnecessary blame. Bad advice just compounds this. And the reality is that the country does not have enough testing kits, and is far from ready. It is also a fact that the team put together for these emergencies by the previous administration was dismantled by the present one. This but Obama and defunding agencies that work on these emergencies will make it far worse than it should.
What to do?
Wash your hands.
When sneezing use a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands.
If no tissue use the crook of your elbow, or a shirt, wash your hands.
Avoid sick people
If sick don’t go to work.
Call your doctor’s office before going there
Avoid the ER, unless this is a life-threatening emergency.
If you have underlying medical conditions, refresh your prescriptions
Prepare for quarantines
Prepare for your life to be disrupted
Chiefly, listen to your local, state and federal health authorities, and the World Health Organization is a good place to research this as well. Avoid spreading rumors and take the experts seriously. Normally, the president repeats messages from responsible authorities. This time around, don’t listen to the president.