Axios’ Jonathan Swan interviewed President Donald Trump last week, and social media has been abuzz about it since it aired on Monday. During the interview, Trump referred to a chart showing that the case fatality ratio (CFR) is lower in the U.S. than in many other countries. This is true, but Swan was correct to point out that the case fatality ratio (CFR) is not a great metric to use. I’ve explained this in the past and it is no less true because Trump cited it. The main reason is that if you’re crushing it with testing, like the United States is in both raw numbers and per capita, the number of confirmed cases will be disproportionately higher than those of other countries that aren’t conducting tests at the same rate.
Swan’s metric of choice (and frankly mine) is deaths per capita. This is a metric the media has generally avoided because, when it comes to deaths per capita, the United States is not number one. Nevertheless, according to Swan, deaths per capita is “where the U.S. is really bad,” noting that based on this metric, the United States is “much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”
“You can’t do that,” Trump said. “Go by the cases.”
“Why can’t I do that?” Swan asked.
As I mentioned, Swan was right that deaths per capita is a better metric, but his characterization of America’s deaths per capita was very misleading.
Deaths per capita in perspective
First off, it should be noted that Swan cherrypicked two countries, but failed to provide important context. He mentioned Germany, but not the United Kingdom, Peru, Chile, Spain, Italy, Sweden, France, or Belgium, all of which have higher deaths per capita than the United States.
#COVID19 deaths per capita.
Nope, USA doesn't lead the world. pic.twitter.com/eJs56IPYTb
— Matt Margolis 🇺🇸 (@mattmargolis) August 4, 2020
Of the top ten countries (based on Statista, which excluded countries with a population of less than 1 million), the United States comes in 8th place. Compared to all countries, the United States comes in 10th, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
How a small number of states skew our numbers
President Trump would have been wise to point out that every state has its own COVID-19 response. The federal government issued guidelines, yes, but each state has its own policies, and those policies vary. The federal government can’t micromanage every state’s COVID-19 response and it hasn’t tried to do so. So, let’s look at how the states vary in their deaths per capita.
USA #COVID19 deaths per capita by state.
There are six states NY, NJ, CT, MA, RI, DC (and more recently LA) that have disproportionately high rates compared to the rest of the country. pic.twitter.com/NojhYYvT9f
— Matt Margolis 🇺🇸 (@mattmargolis) August 4, 2020
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have generally led the entire country in terms of deaths per capita, though recently Louisiana recently passed D.C. Notice how most are in the Northeast and are blue states? What happens if we take New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia and treat them as a separate entity from the United States? Here’s how they rank based on the Johns Hopkins University data:
- NY/NJ/CT/MA/RI/DC (155.91 deaths per 100K population)
- San Marino (124.32)
- Belgium (86.24)
- United Kingdom (69.63)
- Andorra (67.53)
- Peru (61.93)
- Spain (60.94)
- Italy (58.19)
- Sweden (56.41)
- Chile (51.83)
- Brazil (45.19)
- France (45.18)
- Mexico (38.05)
- Ireland (36.32)
- Panama (35.84)
- Netherlands (35.80)
- Ecuador (33.76)
- 45 USA States (31.89)
- Bolivia (28.43)
- Armenia (25.81)
Counted together, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have a collective COVID death rate that is the highest in the world. The remaining 45 states combined, however, come in at 18th place.
The outbreak in context
Now it must be noted that this all makes sense. China’s cover-up of the coronavirus meant that it was spreading across the world undetected for weeks, perhaps even a couple of months. New York City is the cultural and financial capital of the world. According to research, travelers from New York triggered the spread of the virus throughout the United States.
Even before you take into account how Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio botched the local COVID-19 response in New York, it was inevitable that the United States would get hit harder than most other countries. That such a significant number of deaths from COVID-19 come from just five states and Washington, D.C., tells us that most states did admirably with containing the outbreak. Nothing could be done about those weeks of the virus spreading before China told the world about it, but since then, most states have managed to flatten the curve, which was the entire point of social distancing.
Jonathan Swan — like most of the mainstream media — pretends that the United States isn’t 50 self-governing states. This is how President Trump should be answering questions about the “United States’ response” to COVID-19. He needs to point out that the federal government didn’t micromanage the responses in all 50 states and D.C., that the federal government effectively supported the states by providing PPE, ventilators, etc., and that only a few select states botched their responses to the virus. Dismissing deaths per capita as an irrelevant metric is not the way to do it.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis