When President Trump said this week that the United States had done more testing than South Korea, USA Today was quick to fact-check his claim by pointing out, “The United States population is more than six times the size of South Korea’s. On a per-capita basis, South Korea is testing far more of its citizens than the U.S.” In this case, the media attempted to use a per capita comparison against Trump. CNN and MSNBC each made similar fact-checks.
On Thursday, the New York Times made a big fuss over the fact that more than 81,321 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, which is “more cases than China, Italy or any other country has seen.”
According to their report, the United States, following “a series of missteps,” is now “the epicenter of the pandemic.”
But, is it really?
China’s confirmed cases topped out at around 80,000, but, as PJM’s Victoria Taft noted, China reportedly stopped conducting tests in order to show the world they’ve contained the spread of the virus. So, comparing any country to China at this point is useless.
In a visual presentation titled “Where the U.S. Stands Now on Coronavirus Testing” the New York Times even used whole numbers for confirmed cases in one slide, and then in the next slide used per capita numbers for testing, in order to paint the United States in the worst light.
SLIDE 1: This week, the number of coronavirus tests in the United States surpassed those in South Korea and Italy — two countries that had been testing more aggressively.
SLIDE 2: But the United States, which has the most known coronavirus cases in the world, continues to lag in tests per capita, according to an analysis of estimates from the COVID Tracking Project. Both South Korea and Italy have much smaller populations than the U.S.
So, why weren’t the case numbers adjusted to show them on a per capita basis, the same way testing was?
Well, let’s take a look and see why.
Here are the top six countries by confirmed cases (based on the case numbers from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University as of 2:30 pm ET March 27) in descending order:
- USA (94,238)
- Italy (86,498)
- Spain (64,059)
- Germany (49,344)
- Iran (32,332)
- France (29,593)
Now, here are the top six countries by confirmed cases per million people (based on population numbers from the CIA World Fact Book) in descending order:
- Italy (1386.13)
- Spain (1280.78)
- Germany (615.57)
- France (436.17)
- Iran (380.72)
- USA (283.30)
Well, isn’t that interesting? The United States’ confirmed cases per capita are the lowest of the top six countries affected by the virus. Now, there are some who would argue that the United States testing lags behind that of other countries. If we want to assume that there is a discrepancy in testing between countries and that selection bias in testing undercounts the infection rate, then the number of coronavirus deaths is a more accurate way of measuring the impact of the pandemic in each country. So, let’s look at total confirmed deaths in descending order.
- Italy (9,134)
- Spain (4,934)
- Iran (2,378)
- France (1,698)
- USA (1,438)
- Germany (304)
Germany looks pretty good compared to everyone else, doesn’t it? But, let’s look at confirmed deaths per million people in descending order, to see how that changes things:
- Italy (146.37)
- Spain (98.65)
- Iran (28.00)
- France (25.03)
- USA (4.32)
- Germany (3.79)
Interesting indeed! Germany and the United States have significantly better coronavirus death rates per capita than Italy, Spain, Iran and France. A lot better. This is why the media avoids per capita measurements for confirmed cases, but conveniently remembered when it wanted to fact-check Trump’s testing numbers.
The media wants you to believe that the coronavirus in the United States is spiraling out of control the way it did in Italy. Fact check: it isn’t.
UPDATE: To demonstrate my point visually, I generated charts via Our World In Data to explain why the anti-Trump media doesn’t want to tell you about the United States confirmed testing per capita. (NOTE: Their data comes from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.)
Here is a chart of the whole number of confirmed cases by country:
Looks like things have gotten out of control in the United States, doesn’t? The United States looks worse than the other countries, doesn’t it?
Now let’s look at confirmed cases per capita:
Here, you can see how the United States went from way ahead of the world, to having the least cases per capita of the selected countries.
As I said before, because there is likely a discrepancy in testing between countries, and selection bias in testing undercounts the infection rate, confirmed coronavirus deaths might actually be a more accurate way to gauge the severity of the outbreak in each country. So, here’s the chart of confirmed deaths per capita.
This post has been updated with new information.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis