On coronavirus death toll, Fauci contradicts White House line

On Twitter, Trump promoted the idea that the COVID-19 death toll is vastly smaller than official tallies. Dr. Anthony Fauci helped set the record straight.
Image: President Trump leads daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump reacts as Dr. Anthony Fauci steps away from the podium after speaking and answering questions at the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 22, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

Across much of the spring and summer, Donald Trump made a series of unfortunate projections about the U.S. coronavirus death toll. In fact, the president went about making predictions in ways that were nothing short of bizarre.

The Republican said in April that as few as 50,000 Americans would die from COVID-19. And when the death toll reached that threshold, Trump said the overall tally could be as low as 60,000. And when the actual total passed that number, he picked a new number: 65,000. And then 80,000. And then 90,000. And so on.

With the overall death toll at roughly 185,000, the president isn't eyeing a new, larger number; he appears to moving in the opposite direction, suggesting the actual number of fatalities is vastly smaller, because many of the Americans who died had other health issues.

To that end, the president promoted a tweet from a right-wing blogger over the weekend, suggesting there were as few as "9,000 American deaths" that can be attributed to COVID-19. Twitter later removed the content, considering it too misleading to leave up.

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany nevertheless echoed the line. "The President was referring to a CDC -- new information that came out from the CDC that showed that 96 -- 94 percent, rather, of cases -- of fatalities were not just COVID alone; there was another comorbidity or extenuating matter. So he was just pointing to those numbers," she told reporters.

To the extent that reality matters, the New York Times noted that the statistic is "a distortion of data available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that 6 percent of coronavirus fatalities list only the virus on the death certificates. For other deaths, the patients had an average of 2.6 other conditions or causes of death. The statistics do not mean that they did not die because of the virus, but help explain who is most vulnerable to it."

This morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci did his part to set the record straight -- and in the process, he publicly contradicted the White House.

Fauci told the ABC program “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that the CDC guidance, last updated on Aug. 26, indicates that of the people who have died from the virus, “a certain percentage of them had nothing else but just Covid.” However, people with underlying illnesses also die from Covid-19, he said.

"That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did,” Fauci explained. “So the numbers you’ve been hearing -- there are 180,000-plus deaths -- are real deaths from COVID-19. Let (there) not be any confusion about that.”

The nation's leading immunologist added, “It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19, it’s 180-plus-thousand deaths."

If Trump starts whining about Fauci again -- as he did last night -- at least we'll know why.