Posted on July 8, 2020
Today. the day after the US exceeded 60,000 cases in one day for the first. but unlikely last, time seems like a good time to comment on Trump’s claim:
“I think we are in a good place, We’ve done a good job. I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks…I think we are going to be in very good shape”1
The following provides some details on current claims followed by my comments.
These two quotes in ares typical of what he has been saying from early May until now.
“We’re doing so much testing, so much more than any other country, And to be honest with you, when you do more testing, you find more cases. And then they report our cases are through the roof.”2
“Likewise, testing — there were no tests for a new virus, but now we have tested over 40 million people. But by so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country will show, because no other country has testing that we have — not in terms of the numbers or in terms of the quality.“3
Similar claims with respect to testing as the explanation for rapidly rising case numbers have also been made by Florida Governor DeSantis (and undoubtedly other governors with surging case rates) although he recently walked them back4
Trump’s remarks allude to three areas – amount of testing, percent of people seriously effected and death rate. I will address these in turn.
Number of Tests
First, the claim of doing more total tests than anyone else is false if considers tests per capita. In fact, six countries with over 5 million population (Denmark, Russia, the UK, Israel, Portugal and Spain) have done more tests per capita than the US.5 If you want to amuse yourself, take a look at Trump’s rebuttal.6
As I have pointed out in previous posts, when testing is done is far more important than the total number of tests. So we need to look at this to understand better what is happening. The early testing problems the US had have been well documented – often with comparisons to South Korea;7 so. I will focus on what has happened more recently.
By mid-May, things were largely under control when the US
” . . . saw a significant improvement in another key metric for coronavirus testing: the positive rate, or the percentage of tests that come back positive for Covid-19. Generally, a higher positive rate suggests there’s not enough testing happening: It indicates only people with obvious symptoms are getting tested.”8
This falling positive percent accompanied by – and many would say was a key factor in – a gradual decline of case numbers. By mid June, the daily number of new cases had fallen to under 20,000 and the positive percent had fallen to a quite acceptable level of 4.3%.
However, after mid June the effects of the premature openings that started in in late April started to become apparent with rapid growth in new daily cases reaching over 60,000 on July 7 – more than three times the minimums experienced at the end of May. During the same period, the positive test percent has risen from 5% to 8% – not overly high but an indication that more infections go unreported than earlier on.
Looking at the states driving the growth, the situation is seen to be much more serious than suggested by the statistics of the country as a whole. Table 1 summarizes the situation in the five fastest growing states. Over the last week, these five states with just 20% of the US population accounted for almost half of all the new cases in the US. As can be also seen from the table, this growth was accompanied, in each case with an unacceptable rise in the positive test ratio suggesting that there actually far more cases in these states than reported. So, the situation will likely worsen in these states in the coming weeks.
Table 1. Case growth and positive testing rate for states where growth is high.
There are three factors at play here:
- Medical personnel are learning more and are able to save more lives.
- A higher percentage of younger people are getting infected due to crowded bars, beaches, etc.
- An increase in death rate inevitably lags an increase in new case rates; so we should expect the death rate start to increase in the coming weeks due to the present surge.
The net result of all that is that we will likely see an increase in death due to the present surge in infected people but probably not to as high a percentage of cases as experienced in April. There is a caveat to this, the present surge,particularly in the states identified in Table 1, is starting to overload a large portion of vital medical facilities.[See, for example, Hard-hit U.S. states ‘surge’ hospital intensive care beds as ICU wards fill up, Reuters website, June 26, 2020[/efn_note] This could lead to an inability to provide all patients the care they need and, hence, increase the death rate.
Percent of Cases “Totally Harmless”
First and foremost, more than 1% of infected people die which most people would not regard as “harmless”
However, even if the death rate is driven to under 1%, it is becoming increasingly clear that many “recoveries” are partial in that many will have long term health problems. The percentage of patients who might suffer varying lingering effects is the subject of much research but initial evidence is that it could be significant.9
- Trump rebukes Fauci’s coronavirus assessment: ‘I think we are in a good place’, CNN Website, July 7, 2020
- No, President Trump, Testing Is Not Causing Case Counts to Rise. The Virus Is Just Spreading Faster, ProPublica website, June 25, 2020
- Trump Falsely Claims ‘99 Percent’ of Virus Cases Are ‘Totally Harmless’, New York Times, July 5, 2020
- DeSantis pivots on Covid-19 surge, says testing doesn’t account for spike, Politico website, June 20, 2020
- Worldometer COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC Countries Page
- Trending: ‘per capita’, Merriam Webster website
- See, for example, Trust, testing and tracing: How South Korea succeeded where the US stumbled in coronavirus response, ABC News website, May 1, 2020
- America’s coronavirus testing numbers are really improving — finally, VOX News website, May 14, 2020
- THE LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS OF COVID-19, Gavi website, June 19, 2020