The Trump Fox News Sunday Interview Low Lights – COVID-19
Yesterday, we tackled one segment of the interview back and forth between (impeached) president Donald Trump and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. That portion had to do with Trump’s signaling that he may not have any intention of vacating the White House when he loses this coming November’s national election.
You can review that analysis by following the link below:
There is so much more that needs to be unpacked, so let’s get started. We’ll begin with the typical misrepresentations on COVID-19, many of which have constituted a repeat cycle and some of which were countered in real time by Chris Wallace during the broadcast.
WALLACE: Let’s start with the surge of the coronavirus across the country in recent months. You still talk about it as, quote, “burning embers.” But I want to put up a chart that shows where we are with the illness over the last four months. As you can see, we hit a peak here in April, 36,000 cases…
WALLACE: … a day.
TRUMP: Yes, cases.
WALLACE: Then — then it went down and now since June, it has gone up more than double. One day this week 75,000 new cases. More than double…
TRUMP: Chris, that’s because we have great testing, because we have the best testing in the world. If we didn’t test, you wouldn’t be able to show that chart. If we tested half as much, those numbers would be down.
A couple of things here. One is that the claim that the testing in the United States is the “best testing in the world” is flat out false and Trump knows it.
To put this in proper context, the question has to be asked, “how do you quantify ‘best testing’?” That would have sent Trump into a tailspin. Trump always tries to dumb down anything that has even a rudimentary layer of complexity for his base and for other voters he assumes are credulous enough to buy what he’s selling at face value. The pool of people Trump seeks to make chumps of, is shrinking dramatically.
If by “best testing” Trump is suggesting that it is defined by the volume of testing, he is shooting himself in the foot whether he realizes it or not. Bringing the volume of testing into the discussion, if that is what he was referring to, was a misdirection play.
Trump’s leadership on the pandemic, has been such an abject failure that it has necessitated a level of testing that even with the volume of tests America conducts, is in no way sufficient to contend with the explosion in the number of cases.
Epidemiologists consider the testing rate to be virtually irrelevant, which is of course, why Trump brings it up.
“Think of this, if we didn’t do testing, instead of testing over 40 million people, if we did half the testing we would have half the cases. If we did another, you cut that in half, we would have, yet again, half of that. But the headlines are always testing.”
What really defines success as it relates to testing, is the “positivity rate.” If asked, Trump would say that he’s very positive and so should everyone else be. But actually the positivity rate is a problem with COVID-19.
According to Jeffrey Klausner, professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and at the David Geffen School of Medicine:
“The rate is important because that gives us some sense of the burden in the overall population when we look at the positivity. Testing numbers are only useful if they lead to a reduction in viral spread. Every positive test has to result in isolation of that case, and then contact notification of any contacts that have been associated with that case. My concern is while we’re doing a lot of testing, we’re finding a lot of cases, those aren’t having the public health impact that they should.”
The United States, under Trump, is decidedly not doing well, under this proper metric of testing. The U.S. is generally ahead of most underdeveloped nations in this benchmark, but performing considerably worse than Western and Eastern Europe, Canada and Australia. Is that the standard he believes America should be measured against?
A couple of examples. The United States has 11.76 tests per confirmed case, whereas, Germany has 203.82 tests per confirmed case, Canada – 111.51 per; Australia – 212.38 per and Finland – 2,192 tests per confirmed case.
The higher the number of tests per confirmed case, the better that nation is doing in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Who’s doing worse than the United States? Places like Latin and Central America, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan. Get the picture?
The second issue here is Trump’s ongoing pretzel logic in terms of his inference that the United States only looks bad because we do a lot of testing. “If we didn’t test, you wouldn’t be able to show that chart. If we tested half as much, those numbers would be down.”
As so many have noted since he last made such an incompetent statement, one has to presume that Trump genuinely believes that too much testing is the real problem, not reckless behavior that leads to community spread of the virus and hence, more infections that show up in testing.
Too much testing is a problem – for Trump. While adequate testing would be anything but a problem for state health authorities in assessing the extent of the transmission of the virus, (in fact the insufficiency of testing is for them, a problem) – it is a political problem for Trump, who has persistently denied that COVID-19 is a significant public health issue or that it is, as legitimate public health experts are sounding the alarm – out of control.
But are we experiencing more cases because of increased testing? Christian Paz, writing in the Atlantic, clarifies that:
COVID-19 cases are not rising because of “our big-number testing.” Outside the Northeast, the share of tests conducted that come back positive is increasing, with the sharpest spike happening in southern states. In some states, such as Arizona and Florida, the number of new cases being reported is outpacing any increase in the states’ testing ability. And as states set new daily case records and report increasing hospitalizations, all signs point to a worsening crisis.
This leads us into the exchange between Chris Wallace and Trump on the matter of the fatality rate.
WALLACE: But, sir, we have the seventh highest mortality rate in the world. Our mortality rate is higher than Brazil, it’s higher than Russia and the European Union has us on a travel ban.
TRUMP: Yeah. I think what we’ll do — well, we have them under travel ban too, Chris. I closed them off. If you remember, I was the one that did the European Union very early.
But when you talk about mortality rates, I think it’s the opposite. I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.
WALLACE: That’s not true, sir. We, we, we have a — we had 900 deaths on a single day…
TRUMP: We will take a look…
WALLACE: … just this week…
WALLACE: You, you can check it out.
TRUMP: (to Kayleigh McEnany) Can you please get me the mortality rate?
TRUMP: Kayleigh’s right here. I heard we have one of the lowest, maybe the lowest mortality rate anywhere in the world.
TRUMP: Do you have the numbers, please? Because I heard we had the best mortality rate.
TRUMP: Number, number one low mortality rate.
TRUMP: I hope you show the scenario because it shows what fake news is all about. Ok, go ahead.
WALLACE: OK, OK. I don’t think I’m fake news but I will — we’ll put —
TRUMP: Yeah, you will —
TRUMP: You said we had the worst mortality rate in the world —
WALLACE: I said you had —
TRUMP: — and we have the best.
WALLACE VOICE OVER: All right. It’s a little complicated. But bear with us. We went with numbers from Johns Hopkins University which charted the mortality rate for 20 countries hit by the virus. The US ranked 7th better than the United Kingdom but worse than Brazil and Russia.
WALLACE VOICE OVER: The White House went with this chart from the European CDC which shows Italy and Spain doing worse. But countries like Brazil and South Korea doing better. Other countries doing better like Russia aren’t included in the White House chart.
WALLACE: California locking down again. Florida, deadliest day of the entire pandemic. Hospitals at capacity at a number of places around the country. Shortages of testing, shortages of personal protective equipment for nurses and doctors.
To underline, Chris Wallace’s correction of Trump on the mortality rate puffery, not only does the U.S. not have the lowest mortality rate, it also does not have the lowest case-fatality rate.
As of July 13, the case-fatality rate—the ratio of deaths per confirmed COVID-19 cases—was 4.1 percent, which places only in the middle of global rankings. It has the world’s ninth-worst mortality rate, with 41.33 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
This drove a silver bullet into Trump’s foolhardy Hail Mary pass on the mortality rate, but this does tie in with Trump’s ongoing attempts to minimize the significance of how many Americans have died from COVID-19 on his watch – which now stands at 143, 630 (July 20).
To put matters into perspective, the death count from the virus in Germany, which has about one quarter the population of the U.S., is 9,091.
359 new cases of COVID-19 are being diagnosed each day in Germany, and deaths there are down to an average of five a day. In just Florida alone, there have been 10,855 new cases reported in a single day.
The U.S. on the other hand, is currently reporting an average of 63,281 new cases each day, and losing 756 lives. These are two industrial democracies that are headed in opposite directions.
Trump, because he early on made the calculus to weaponize his messaging on COVID-19 politically, now is engaged in an ongoing, feeble attempt to move the goalposts as the death count increases. Beginning in February, Trump made a litany of astonishingly reckless statements about the emerging pandemic:
February 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
February 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
February 25: “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”
February 25: “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away… They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”
February 26: “The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
February 26: “We’re going very substantially down, not up.”
February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
March 5: “The United States… has, as of now, only 129 cases… and 11 deaths. We are working very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible!” (And in late March, Trump once again, absurdly, and contrary to obvious facts, claimed the coronavirus would go away on its own. Then he compared it favorably to the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, which killed about 12,500 Americans.)
June 17: The pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.”
He also proposed that the models that forecast that COVID-19 could kill 100,000 Americans — roughly equivalent to two Vietnam Wars or 38 September 11th attacks — demonstrate how well he has performed in damage control. Shortly after that, Trump said that if the death toll peaked at between 100,000 to 200,000 people, this would indicate that his administration has “done a very good job.”
In Trump’s contrived reality, tails is heads, down is up and bottom is top, not to mention failure is success. It’s all very Orwellian. Trump most recently commented to the effect that had he not done such a tremendous job managing the outbreak, instead of 130,000 deaths, we could have had one or two million.
Perhaps it depends on one’s measuring stick, or one’s affinity for social Darwinism. The U.S., under Trump, has the seventh largest mortality rate from COVID-19 in the world.
Later, the subject of testing took an even more preposterous turn. After telling Wallace that he, Trump, does take responsibility, in response to Mr. Wallace challenging him on the lack of a national plan – Trump then immediately pivoted and directed his comments and the responsibility he has abdicated, at state governors. “Some governors have done well, some governors have done poorly. They’re supposed to have supplies they didn’t have. I supplied everybody.”
When Trump once again touted that, “we have more tests by far than any country in the world”, Wallace replied,
WALLACE: But, sir, testing is up 37 percent.
TRUMP: Well, that’s good.
WALLACE: I understand. Cases are up 194 percent. It isn’t just that testing has gone up, it’s that the virus has spread. The positivity rate has increased. There – the virus is…
TRUMP: Many of those cases…
WALLACE: … worse than it was.
TRUMP: Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test. Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly.
We go out and we look and then on the news — look if you go back to the news, all of your — even your wonderful competitors, you’ll see cases are up. Cases are up — many of those cases shouldn’t even be cases. Cases are up because we have the best testing in the world and we have the most testing.
No country has ever done what we’ve done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world. They call and they say the most incredible job anybody’s done is our job on testing, because we’re going to very shortly be up to 50 million tests.
You look at other countries; they don’t even do tests. They do tests if somebody walks into the hospital, they’re sick, they’re really sick, they test them then, or they’ll test them in a doctor’s office. But they don’t go around have massive areas of testing and we do. And I’m glad we do, but it really skews the numbers.
We’ll finish up here, but as you can see, Trump doubled down on all his false assertions and even more appallingly, described COVID-19 symptoms as “the sniffles” and lied about the recovery rate of people who test positive for the virus. This was a rehashing of erroneous statements he made in March, when rejecting the actual mortality rate:
“Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly. They don’t even see a doctor. They don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”
Although the “recovery rate” is not a static number, because it does not perfectly synchronize with the number of total cases, the actual number is 93 percent, not “99.7”. What all of this adds up to for Trump, is that as he continues to make statements that do not conform to facts or data, his credibility with the majority of the electorate continues to erode.
67% — say they don’t trust President Donald Trump to speak truthfully about the pandemic, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, and 62% say he’s actually “hurting” efforts to slow its spread.
Public approval over his handling of the pandemic is at an all-time low since polling began in March, with 35% now approving and 62% disapproving, according to the poll.
And it was reported today that Trump is going to resurrect his failed and disgraced daily coronavirus briefings. Hard to believe that he actually desires to be re-elected.