In an interview this weekend, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, corrected another piece of disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic put out by President Trump.
On Sunday, Trump falsely accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of inflating COVID-19 case and death counts. The number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 “is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov’s ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low. ‘When in doubt, call it Covid.’ Fake News!” Trump tweeted.
“Well, the deaths are real deaths,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview, after This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz asked the nation’s top infectious disease expert for his response to the president’s tweet. “All you need to do is to go out into the trenches, go to the hospitals, see what the healthcare workers are dealing with,” Dr. Fauci continued. “They are under very stressed situations. In many areas of the country, the hospital beds are stretched, people are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel, who are exhausted right now. That’s real. That’s not fake. That’s real.”
Earlier in the interview, Dr. Fauci said, “There’s no running away from the numbers, Martha,” referring to recent daily counts for new cases and deaths. “It’s something that we’ve absolutely got to grasp and get our arms around and turn that inflection down by very intensive adherence to the public health measures, uniformly, throughout the country, with no exceptions.”
According to the latest CDC data on COVID-19 mortality, there have been 350,664 total deaths and 20,558,489 total cases reported in the U.S. (For comparison, during the 2019-2020 flu season, there were up to 56,000,000 cases and between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths according to CDC data, as SELF previously reported.) But experts believe that the CDC’s numbers are, if anything, an underestimate of infections and deaths due to COVID-19, because of holes in the agency’s data collection.
One sign that this is the case is the increase in excess deaths since the beginning of the pandemic—the spread between the number of people who have died from all causes since the start of the pandemic and the number of people we would’ve usually expected to die during that time period, based on historical data. For instance, we’ve seen an uptick in deaths from a number of conditions, including circulatory diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, relative to previous years, the CDC explains. And we don’t know how many of these excess deaths are misclassified COVID-19 deaths, as opposed to deaths indirectly caused by the pandemic (like people not getting medical care).
Death certificate data is unlikely to capture all actual deaths due to COVID-19 for various reasons, as SELF previously reported, like administrative fallibility or missing information. For instance, individuals who never received a formal COVID-19 diagnosis, whose deaths were improperly coded, or who died outside of a health care setting could be left out of the count.
Dr. Fauci wasn’t the only top health official to defend the CDC’s data when asked about Trump’s tweet. “From a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H., told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday’s State of the Union. “And I think people need to be very aware that it’s not just about the deaths, as we talked about earlier,” Dr. Adams added. “It’s about the hospitalizations, the capacity. These cases are having an impact in an array of ways and people need to understand there’s a finish line in sight, but we’ve got to keep running toward it.”