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Is Trump really to blame for 200,000-plus coronavirus deaths?

covid-19 deaths trump
Photo via GPA Photo Archive/Flickr (Public Domain)

In the second presidential debate on Oct. 22, former Vice President Joe Biden claimed that President Trump is responsible for the deaths of “220,000 Americans.” The real number of COVID-19 deaths that Trump is truly responsible for is difficult to pin down, but it’s much smaller than what Biden claimed.

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. has suffered more than 9 million COVID-19 cases and 230,000 Americans have lost their lives. Trump stated as recently as Oct. 28 that his administration succeeded in “ending the COVID-19 pandemic.” The pandemic rages on, however, and is only expected to worsen as the winter months move in. 

The president is banking his claims on a March report from Imperial College London. The study concluded that, in the instance of an “unmitigated epidemic,” the U.S. was expected to lose 2.2 million lives. This situation allows for absolutely no mitigating factors, however, like mask wearing, social distancing, and isolating positive patients. The U.S., while not universally, has employed many of these protective measures. 

Had the federal government acted more swiftly and decisively, more lives would likely have been saved. How many, exactly, is a difficult question to answer. The U.S. death toll continues to climb on a daily basis—and set a new record of nearly 100,000 new cases on Oct. 30—making any estimations tenuous at best. Add to this the uncertain number of deaths during Trump’s reign that resulted from COVID-19—which must include patients without COVID-19 who died due to the overcrowding of hospitals—and any attempt to determine how many Americans might have died had the federal government reacted differently is pure speculation. 

As noted by the Washington Post, an estimated 299,028 “excess deaths” have been recorded between late January and early October 2020. These deaths may have been considered “excess” due to undiagnosed coronavirus cases or a lack of access to tests. 

While it is nearly impossible to pin down a precise number of Americans who may have survived had the president reacted differently, a few estimates have been released. Researchers with Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness compared deaths in the U.S. with those from similar countries. Their report found that between “130,000 and 210,000” Americans need not have died from the coronavirus. 

There are a number of measures the U.S. could have taken, on a national level, to decrease the number of COVID-19 fatalities. The American Health Association released a compendium of models predicting the potential spread of COVID-19 in April. Had U.S. officials reviewed these models and used them to anticipate how the virus might spread, the government could have enacted a more effective strategy. 

States and cities within the U.S. have reacted individually, in some cases far more effectively than the country as a whole. San Francisco, one of the nation’s most densely populated cities, has fared far better than many of its neighbors. An early response to the pandemic, strict lockdown measures, and a careful reopening strategy all helped the city manage to maintain the least deaths per capita in the U.S.

As we inch toward the daunting winter months, experts are expecting the pandemic to get much worse. In the U.S. alone, experts anticipate that more than 500,000 Americans, in total, could lose their lives to the pandemic if coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased. If habits change, however, and if 95% of the population wears masks whenever in public, this number could be decreased by up to 130,000, according to epidemiologist Dr. Ali Mokdad.

Sources: Johns Hopkins, Washington Post, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, American Heart Association, CNN


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