News & Politics

White House Officials Privately Questioning Virus Death Toll Numbers

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, listen as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci takes questions from the press during a coronavirus update briefing Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Some officials in the Trump White House are questioning the death toll numbers publicized by the coronavirus task force projecting 100,000 to 240,000 dead Americans.

In fact, one of the researchers whose data was used by the White House to project the death toll is also wondering how the coronavirus task force arrived at its conclusions.

The Hill:

According to the Post, several White House staffers have doubted the accuracy of the figures. One source said Anthony Fauci, an immunologist who is coordinating the coronavirus task force, told others there were too many factors at play to come up with an accurate estimate.

“I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything. You can’t really rely upon models,” he said to members of the task force, according to the Post.

Except when it comes to global warming, then the models are proof enough to suck $30 trillion out of the economy in the next 20 years.

But even the researchers whose work was used to create those scary numbers are questioning the results.

Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University whose research was cited by the White House, told the Post his work doesn’t go far enough to reach those sorts of estimates.

“We don’t have a sense of what’s going on in the here and now, and we don’t know what people will do in the future,” he said. “We don’t know if the virus is seasonal, as well.”

Virus “hardliners” in the White House want much stricter social distancing and almost a total shutdown of the economy, while others — including the president — want the current regimen to continue and then impose stricter controls where they’re needed and if it becomes necessary.

But advisors like Fauci aren’t in the business of guessing at numbers, and Dr. Deborah Birx is frustrated not only with the lack of testing, but that results are not flowing to the CDC as planned.

CNN:

Birx, one of the top officials on the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Thursday that part of the $2 trillion economic stimulus measure that was signed into law by President Donald Trump requires that all tests conducted get reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Birx says she has not received that data yet.

“Well, I’m telling you, I’m still missing 50% of the data from reporting,” she said. “I have 660 (thousand) tests reported in. We’ve done 1.3 million. … So, we do need to see — the bill said you need to report. We are still not receiving 100% of the tests.”

When pressed about the possibility that 1 in 3 tests had produced false negatives, Birx said, “I haven’t seen that kind of anomaly.”

We’re not going to have much of an idea about the mortality of the disease without knowing how many people may have it. The question is, who is responsible for sending the state test results to Atlanta?

Maybe some of those governors should stop primping for their daily press briefings long enough to make sure the CDC is getting everything they need from them.

There is no political advantage for Trump to fudge the potential death toll numbers. And it hardly matters if the death toll is 60,000 or 100,000. By the summer solstice, there are going to be a lot of dead Americans who will be beyond caring whether Trump is right or wrong.