Confronted with America’s spike in coronavirus numbers, Donald Trump keeps offering the same excuse. But the data doesn’t back it up, says Sam Clench.
Confronted with America’s spike in coronavirus numbers, Donald Trump keeps offering the same excuse. But the data doesn’t back it up, says Sam Clench.

Trump’s last coronavirus excuse crumbles


Donald Trump appears to have given up on containing the coronavirus.

There is no other way to interpret his behaviour this week.

Infections are currently spiking sharply across much of the United States. Records are being shattered all over the place, hospitals are running out of ICU beds, and the number of new cases each day has tripled in less than a month.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the US identified 65,551 new infections yesterday alone. That's more than seven times the number of cases Australia has recorded during the entire pandemic. In 24 hours.

And the American President is doing precisely nothing about it.

Mr Trump's only two contributions of any significance to the US virus response this week were to push for a full reopening of schools and to slap down his own infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, for suggesting there was anything wrong.

Dr Fauci told a Senate hearing the state of America's outbreak was "really not good".

"We had been in a situation, we were averaging about 20,000 new cases a day. And then a series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up, in the sense of getting back to some form of normality, has led to a situation where we now have record-breaking cases," he said, adding that the US was still "knee deep in the first wave" of the pandemic.

"If you look at the graphs from Europe - the European Union as an entity, it went up, and then it came down to baseline. Now they're having little blips, as you might expect, as they try to reopen. We went up, never came down to baseline, and now we're surging back up," said Dr Fauci.

"It's a serious situation that we have to address immediately."

That last part was quite obviously a call for the US government to, you know, do something.

But speaking to TV host Greta van Susteren, Mr Trump bluntly disagreed with Dr Fauci, who happens to be a senior adviser on his own White House's Coronavirus Task Force.

"I think we are in a good place, I disagree with him," the President said, in an assessment completely divorced from reality.

"We've done a good job. I think we are going to be - in two, three, four weeks, by the time we next speak, I think we are going to be in very good shape."

You might wonder how Mr Trump arrived at that sunny prediction, given the virus's trajectory in the US is getting worse, not better, and he has proposed absolutely nothing that could reverse that trend.

Perhaps it was born from the same optimism that led Mr Trump, all those months ago, to declare the virus would vanish, miraculously, in April.

The number of months that have passed since that prediction. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP
The number of months that have passed since that prediction. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP

Whenever he is confronted with the raw numbers, which are quite obviously not "in a good place", Mr Trump repeats the same excuse. The problem he faces is that it becomes less and less plausible with each passing day.

For example, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity yesterday, he was asked to address the "recent rise in outbreaks".

"Let me just make one statement. We do testing like nobody's ever done testing. And when we test, the more you test, the more cases you find," Mr Trump replied.

"Other countries, you know when they test? They have tests that are very limited. We have massive - 45 million people have been tested. And our tests are the best.

"We have cases all over the place. Most of the cases immediately get better, they are people, young people, they have sniffles and two days later they are fine and they are not sick to start off with. They are asymptomatic.

"A lot of things happen, and what we are doing with all of these tests that we are doing all over the country - test everybody, pull-up parking lots, everything else - what we've done is we've created a tremendous number of cases.

"Everybody else - can you imagine if China tested like we test? They don't."

The purest distillation of this argument came in a tweet the President posted on Thursday night, our time.

"The reason we show so many cases compared to other countries that haven't done nearly as well as we have is that our TESTING is much bigger and better. We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, cases would be half," he said.

"NOT REPORTED!" he added.

The reason this assertion is NOT REPORTED! as fact is because it's delusional nonsense.

Mr Trump seems to have convinced himself that there are millions of infected people secretly walking around every other country on earth, undiagnosed, because those nations can't be bothered to test them.

According to this logic, America is doing no worse than any other country at containing the pandemic, even though it has 3.2 million confirmed infections and 136,000 deaths.

The reality, of course, is that the US is showing more cases of the virus because - bear with me here - it has more cases of the virus. Crazy, right?

Since June 12, the number of tests conducted in the US has increased by 37 per cent. If Mr Trump were right, and the entire rise in cases can be blamed on the higher level of testing, you would expect infections to also be 37 per cent higher.

The real figure is 152 per cent, which means infections are actually increasing at a much faster rate than testing.

In the same period, the data from Johns Hopkins shows the national positivity rate - the proportion of tests that come back positive - has risen from 4.3 per cent to 8.2 per cent.

Again, the conclusion is clear. The massive spikes across America's southern and western states are not because of a rise in testing, but because of a dramatic rise in infections.

"We certainly are picking up more cases through testing, but there definitely is evidence that this is not just a testing phenomenon," Josh Sharfstein, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the BBC.

"Even for the same number of tests that were being done a few weeks ago, the percentage positive is much higher.

"We're seeing more and more patients in the hospital and the intensive care unit. So it's just not true to say this is entirely from testing.

"It is a very serious situation, frankly."

Instead of coming up with a way to address this "very serious" situation, Mr Trump is pretending the situation doesn't even exist. It's an extraordinary abdication of leadership.

The President’s numbers don’t add up. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP
The President’s numbers don’t add up. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP

A gobsmacking report in The Washington Post this week claimed White House officials were hoping Americans would "grow numb" to the virus's death toll, and just get used to having tens of thousands of new cases each day.

"They're of the belief that people will get over it if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on, and the public will learn to accept 50,000-100,000 new cases a day," a former Trump administration official, who is in touch with the campaign, told the newspaper.

This is the President's strategy? To surrender to the virus, do nothing to stop it, and hope voters don't care enough to punish him?

This is not going to end well, for Mr Trump or for anyone else.


Originally published as Trump's last coronavirus excuse crumbles