“I think we could have followed that approach. And if we did follow that approach, I think we might have 2 million people dead,” Trump replied.
That figure comes from a study released by Imperial College last month. The study suggested that a failure to institute social distancing policies in the United States might result in more than 2 million deaths, a figure that the White House embraced this month when extending its recommendations aimed at containing the virus.
At another point, Trump said that “Sweden is suffering greatly,” an argument rooted in the country’s expanding number of coronavirus-linked deaths. As of Thursday, about 800 people had died in the country, far fewer than the 16,0000-plus who’ve died in the United States or the 18,000 who’ve died in Italy. As a function of population, though, Sweden has lost 77 people for every 1 million residents — lower than Italy’s 303 but well above the U.S.'s 50.
The evolution of cases in the three countries is interesting. The growth of new cases in the United States has tracked with Italy’s, relative to the point at which each saw the number of infections pass 1-per-million. Sweden trails in terms of the expansion of the virus within its borders. But Sweden’s relative death toll tracks closely with the United States’.
The reason is that the number of deaths for each 100 confirmed cases in Sweden has risen quickly in the past few weeks, while that figure in both Italy and the United States has grown more slowly.
There are a lot of variables here, including the extent of testing and demographic issues in Italy which have contributed to the higher mortality rate in that country. But to Trump’s point, the data indicate that Sweden is seeing an increasing mortality rate and that it has more deaths per capita than the United States.
Trump’s reply to the question then veered back into that worst-case scenario.
“One of the reasons we’re so far below that number is because nobody thought the American people could be so disciplined, nobody thought it was possible,” Trump said. “And I guess when they watched us appear every day” — a defense of his briefings, which have come under fire from even his own party — “and they watched other people and they listened to their representatives and governors, nobody thought that the American people could be so disciplined. They’d been unbelievable.”
“And because of that — so you have a minimum number of hundred thousand,” he continued, referring to the lower-end deaths estimate the White House unveiled last week. “And then you had the 2.2 number that if we did nothing, if we did just kept working and everybody go to work, people would be dropping dead on the subways.”
Getting everybody back to work, of course, is what Trump’s been advocating on and off for several weeks. Even in the briefing, he argued for the need to quickly roll back much of the social distancing that’s been implemented in the country in an effort to boost the economy.
On multiple occasions Friday, he described the decision of when to rescind social distancing efforts as the hardest he’d ever have to make. With good reason, since his response to the Sweden question makes clear he understands the stakes: Let everyone go back to work, and people are dropping dead on the subway.
As of writing, the number of deaths per million in the United States has increased to 55.6 per million, up from 50 Thursday. The number of deaths per million in Sweden has jumped to 84.2 per million, up from 76.7. Sweden’s problem is growing faster than ours, in that sense — and, to at least some extent, seems to be giving Trump pause.