The number of Americans dying from COVID-19 has been falling for weeks, a case the White House is making as it points out that the U.S. fatality rate is well below that of Europe’s biggest countries.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Monday that the fatality rate — the ratio between confirmed deaths and confirmed cases — is well below that of France, the United Kingdom and Germany, as she defended President Trump’s comment during his Fourth of July address that 99% of novel coronavirus cases are “totally harmless.”
“The president is not downplaying the severity of the virus,” Ms. McEnany said at a press briefing. “What the president is noting is that at the height of this pandemic we were at 2,500 deaths per day. We are now at a place where on July 4 there were 254. That’s a tenfold decrease in mortality.”
She said the number of deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday was 209, which was down 23% from the previous week.
“What the president was pointing to, and I’m glad you brought it up, was a factual statement, one that is rooted in science and one that was pointing out the fact that mortality in the country is very low,” Ms. McEnany said.
Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update Friday noting that the death rates from pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19 have dropped for 10 straight weeks, from 9.0% in week 25 to 5.9% in week 26 and almost reaching the point at which the outbreak would no longer be considered an epidemic.
“The percentage is currently at the epidemic threshold but will likely change as more death certificates are processed, particularly for recent weeks,” the CDC said in its July 3 update.
After daily death rates peaked at 3,000 in March and April, they fell Sunday to 251, in large part because younger people who are better able to survive COVID-19 make up a larger percentage of patients.
Alex Berenson, author of “Unreported Truths About Covid-19 and Lockdowns,” said the “news is significantly better on all fronts” when it comes to SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus.
“Despite fact that the number of positive SARS-COV-2 tests (what the media calls cases) in the Sun Belt has been rising for the last few weeks, hospitalizations and especially patients in intensive care and on ventilators are rising much more slowly,” Mr. Berenson said.
In addition, “deaths actually continue to drop to their lowest levels since the epidemic began in March.”
Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post that COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have fallen by more than a third and asked why the “Lamestream Fake News Media REFUSE to say that China Virus deaths are down 39%, and that we now have the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.
“They just can’t stand that we are doing so well for our Country!” the president tweeted.
Vice President Mike Pence convened a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force Monday and insisted that the federal government would ensure that “states have exactly what they need to respond to the increase” in positive test results.
July Fourth festivities could result in an uptick in deaths and serious cases in the next two weeks, given reports of celebrations and beaches where not all people engaged in social distancing or mask-wearing, but Mr. Berenson said the decline over the past month should hold up statistically.
“Deaths can lag positive cases by a couple of weeks, but they should not lag by a month or more,” he said in an email. “So the decline in deaths is evidence that either the rise in positive tests is occurring mainly among younger people at low risk, doctors are getting better at treating COVID, doctors in [New York] and the early states made unfortunate and possibly preventable mistakes, or the virus itself is becoming less dangerous.”
That message has been all but lost amid the alarm over the summer surge of COVID-19 cases and talk about a second shutdown.
Several jurisdictions in recent days have issued new restrictions and delayed reopening plans as cases in the Sun Belt soar.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez announced Monday that he would reinstate an order closing gyms, massage parlors, banquet venues and dine-in restaurant service after a record 2,418 new cases Saturday. The order takes effect Wednesday.
The mayor said he would reopen beaches Tuesday after closing them for the weekend, but he warned that “if we see crowding and people not following the public health rules, I will be forced to close the beaches again.”
Florida notched a record 11,458 cases on Saturday, although that number fell to 6,336 on Monday, with a 15% positive test rate Sunday. The state recorded 47 deaths related to COVID-19.
Infections have increased in 37 states in recent weeks as governors and mayors reopen their hard-hit economies. Some officials have cracked down on masks and social distancing rules.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, signed an executive order Monday mandating the wearing of masks for everyone 9 and older whenever they are indoors and social distancing is not possible. He warned that another shutdown could be the next step.
“If we don’t do it — and do it now — we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” Mr. Justice said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Monday that she had testified positive.
“COVID-19 has literally hit home. I have had NO symptoms and have tested positive,” tweeted Ms. Bottoms, who reportedly is among those being considered as a running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Mr. Trump said during his July Fourth address on the South Lawn of the White House that nearly 40 million people have been tested. “By doing so, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless, results that no other country can show because no other country has testing that we have,” he said.
The statement prompted a flurry of fact checks and stern reprimands from media outlets and columnists such as CNN’s Maeve Reston, who accused the president of “gaslighting Americans about the threat to their health.”
The World Health Organization has placed the global death rate at less than 1%, which may have been what Mr. Trump was referring to, while noting that 20% of those infected will exhibit severe symptoms.
Ms. McEnany emphasized that the president takes the outbreak “very seriously.”
“Of course, he takes it very seriously,” she said. “Of course, no one wants to see anyone in this country contract COVID, which is why the administration has fought hard to make sure that’s not the case with our historic response effort.”
While Mr. Trump has been accused of downplaying the spike to boost his reelection chances, media outlets have been charged with hyping the uptick in the caseload without offering perspective on the declining death toll.
“Continued efforts by top newspapers and large cable outlets to panic readers and views serve no one,” Mr. Berenson said.