Trump administration

Fact Check: Trump's Inaccurate Coronavirus Death Rate Comparison

Trump made his claim about global coronavirus mortality rates during an April 16 press briefing

In this April 16, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Available data on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths contradicts President Donald Trump’s recent claim that “the United States has achieved a significant lower mortality rate than almost all other countries.”

As of April 16, there were at least 90 countries with a lower case fatality rate than the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump made his claim about global coronavirus mortality rates during an April 16 press briefing by the White House coronavirus task force. At the same briefing, the president said a “team of experts now agrees” that the U.S. can begin the process of reopening businesses that have largely been shut down during the pandemic.

Trump, April 16: The United States has achieved a significant lower mortality rate than almost all other countries.

Based on the latest data, our team of experts now agrees that we can begin the next front in our war, which we’re calling, “Opening Up America Again.”  And that’s what we’re doing: We’re opening up our country. And we have to do that. America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open.

We asked the White House what information the president relied on, but we did not receive a response.

He’s wrong based on recent data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking COVID-19 cases and deaths around the world.

The university has calculated the “observed case-fatality ratio” — the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases — for around 130 countries. As of April 16, at least 90 of those nations had a lower rate than the U.S. rate of 4.9%.

Some of those nations with a lower rate were Singapore (0.2%), New Zealand (0.6%), Australia (1%), Israel (1.1%), Japan (2.1%), South Korea (2.2%) Turkey (2.2%), Germany (2.9%), Portugal (3.3%)  and Canada (4.1%).

The data does show the case fatality rate in the U.S. was lower when compared with the other countries that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. had the eighth lowest rate among the 10 countries Johns Hopkins University said were “most affected by COVID-19 worldwide,” as of April 16. Only China (4%) and Germany had lower rates than the U.S. (and data as of April 17 indicate that China’s rate may now be up to 5.5%). Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Spain all had rates higher than 10%.

It’s important to note that Johns Hopkins University says differences in mortality rates can be caused by a number of reasons such as testing, demographics and health care systems.

“With more testing, more people with milder cases are identified. This lowers the case-fatality ratio,” the university said, for example.

China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences began the second phase of a clinical trial on Sunday for a coronavirus vaccine.

Trump himself made this point at a March 29 briefing

“It’s one of the reasons that we have more cases than other countries, because we’ve been testing,” he said. “It’s also one of the reasons that we’re just about the lowest in terms of mortality rate, because we’ve been doing more testing.”

The U.S., which is the third most populous country, has conducted more tests than any other nation – about 3.4 million, as of April 16, according to Our World in Data. But it lags behind other countries on a per-capita basis, as we have written before.

We should also point out that these case fatality rates are based on only the known coronavirus cases and deaths. Because unreported cases and deaths are not included, it’s difficult to say exactly what the rate of death from COVID-19 is in any country.  

But based on the global data we currently have about the disease, Trump’s claim that the U.S. mortality rate is lower than nearly all other nations is wrong.

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