Misunderstood math, Trump has adopted coronavirus death tolls that we will soon overtake


It was a difficult message for President Trump, for a variety of reasons. No president wants to tell the public that the best scenario for a crisis is that hundreds of thousands of people will die. But that’s what the data showed, and that’s what was presented to make people stay at home.

Over time, the models have been revised with new information. A prominent model used by the White House, created by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, used new information on distancing measures in Europe and the United States to shift its estimate to the drop in the number of deaths from 90,000 to just over 60,000.

Trump has savored the change.

With 60,000 dead, “you can never be happy,” Trump said in a briefing on April 10, shortly after the model was revised. “But it’s much less than what we were originally told and thought. So they said between [100,000] and at least 220,000 lives, then up to 2.2 million lives if we do nothing. But it showed a simply tremendous determination on the part of the people of this country. So we’ll see what it ends up being, but it looks like we’re headed for a number well below 100,000. This would be the lowest score. And I hope this is confirmed. ”

“We did the right thing,” he said later, “because maybe 2 million people would have died instead of the final number, which could be 60, 70, 75. , 55 Thousands have died. “

A week later, the same argument.

“I think we will be significantly, hopefully, below the [100,000] number, “he said. “And I think right now we’re probably going around 60 to 65,000 maybe. “

As recently as Monday, Trump again touted that number.

“We did the right thing, because if we hadn’t done it, you would have had a million people, a million and a half people, maybe 2 million dead,” he said. declared. “Now we’re going to 50, I mean, 60,000 people. One is too much. I always say it: one is too much. But we are reaching 50 or 60,000 people. “

We are not. We will exceed 50,000 in a few days and we will probably touch 60,000 dead in early May. These are just registered deaths. The actual death toll will almost certainly be much higher, as deaths outside hospitals and those not preceded by coronavirus tests – including some in early February in California – are added to the total.

Trump’s adoption of the 60,000 number seems to be a combination of misunderstanding on the IHME review, misunderstanding of what the White House said in the first place, and depending on the vagueness needed to determine the death toll in the first place .

As of this writing, Johns Hopkins University estimates that approximately 47,000 people have died from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. For the past several weeks, the number of new deaths per day in the United States has hovered around 2,000. New York City’s decision to add the suspected deaths of Covid-19 to its count has boosted the national total for several days last week.

Obviously, even assuming that subsequent estimates accurately match the total, the idea that only 3,000 more people will die from the coronavirus is ludicrous. The idea that only 13,000 people seems unlikely, except for a sudden and dramatic drop in new deaths – a decline that continues indefinitely.

Models of the possible death toll, including those of the IHME, result in the country registering 60,000 deaths in the first week of May. A model created by a number of academic and non-governmental groups called the Gleam Project suggests that by May 7, there will be more than 62,000 deaths. On that day, the number of IHMEs was closer to 64,000.

The IHME model shows the number of deaths decreasing in May, which is good news. But this introduces another aspect of his model that Trump seems to have misunderstood or ignored: he models only the first wave of infections.

The IHME model has two limitations that need to be taken into account when considering what it projects. The first is that the model Assumed a pattern of death that depends on the type of decay shown in the second graph above. The second is that his estimates didn’t go until early August.

In other words, even when people were celebrating its downward revision to 60,000 deaths, it was still only the estimated total until early summer. It did not include any estimate of what might happen if the virus resurfaces this fall and winter, as we usually see with the flu. (The death toll predicted by IHME up to July is now around 67,000.)

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield unleashed a storm this week predicting that this winter could be more difficult than what we are currently seeing, thanks to the combination of coronaviruses (for which we will probably still lack vaccine ) and seasonal flu. Trump, eager to dispel concerns about the virus, brought Redfield to Wednesday’s briefing to explain his comments.

“The crown may not even come back, just for you to understand,” said Trump after Redfield confirmed his comments.

“Wouldn’t you say there is a good chance that lust will not return? Trump asked Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

“We don’t know -” replied Birx with some hesitation.

“And if it comes back, it’s in a very small, confined area that we turn off,” said Trump.

This is not necessarily true. The United States will certainly be better prepared for a reemergence of the virus this fall, but the same basic problems may remain: limited immunity, limited therapeutic drugs, no inoculations. And that means the death toll is likely to continue to rise. As can happen for months, until there is sufficient immunity in the population, effective treatment or a vaccine.

Trump has sometimes compared the number of Covid-19 deaths to the number of victims of the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. The CDC estimates that more than 12,000 people died from this virus from April 2009 to April 2010. (The number Relatively low death toll is probably why Trump no longer compares it to covid-19.) This is an estimate, based on observed illness totals and documented deaths. It is similar to the annual estimates that the government compiles to determine the number of people who died from seasonal flu, part of its determination of the “burden of illness” that the flu requires each winter. In the 2018-2019 flu season, for example, the CDC estimates that around 34,000 people died from the flu, a figure that could be as low as 26,000 or as high as almost 53,000.

This is a scientific estimate greater than the number of deaths observed. (Only about 7,000 deaths from influenza were directly recorded during the flu season.) Finally, we will get a similar estimate of the number of deaths caused by covid-19. It is also likely to be higher than the figures we currently have.

In this table that the White House presented in March, the calendar on which the number of deaths would be recorded has not been identified. If the lower estimate, those 100,000 to 220,000 deaths, was only measured in July of this year, then we are about to enter well below the lower limit. But if it was all over the spread of the emergence of the virus, from March 2020 to the summer of 2021, we may be less sure that 100,000 was an overestimate. Especially once the final estimate of the virus balance is calculated.

For Trump, the question was simple. The lower estimate said 100,000, and here is a model suddenly throwing a figure of 60,000. Trump, Trump-style, has kissed him, even cutting a few thousand every now and then.

Reality refuses to be so generous.


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