But a key claim Trump made at Tuesday’s briefing in this regard doesn’t quite hold up — even as it was echoed by a lead medical expert on the task force.
Both Trump and coronavirus response director Deborah Birx on Tuesday sought to highlight the United States’ success in keeping the coronavirus mortality rate down. There is something to be said for that; it’s just not quite what Trump and Birx said.
Trump said early in the briefing: “Our mortality rate remains roughly half of that of many other countries and [is] one of the lowest of any country in the world.”
Birx added later the United States has “one of the lowest mortality rates in the entire world.” Both credited our medical professionals for that.
We can say a few things:
- The United States does have a lower mortality rate than several other of the most hard-hit countries — significantly lower in some cases.
- We do not have one of the “lowest” rates of any country worldwide.
Johns Hopkins University has been doing yeoman’s work in collecting daily data about the incidence of coronavirus cases and deaths. Currently, its data show the mortality rate in the United States is 5.4 percent of confirmed cases — 44,845 deaths out of 823,786 cases.
That’s indeed quite a bit lower than some of the hardest-hit areas in Europe. Belgium’s rate is 14.6 percent. Italy’s and the United Kingdom’s are each 13.4 percent. France is at 13.1 percent. Sweden and the Netherlands are at more than 11 percent. Spain is at 10.4 percent. The U.S. rate is about half or even less than most of those seven countries and seven other less-hard-hit countries that are also in the double digits.
Whether those 14 nations constitute the “many other countries” that Trump cited is subjective.
But several countries have dealt with significant outbreaks with mortality rates that are lower than the United States. Canada is at 4.8 percent. Ireland is at 4.6 percent. Portugal is at 3.6 percent. Germany is at 3.4 percent. India is at 3.2 percent. South Korea is at 2.2 percent. Israel is at 1.3 percent.
Out of the 134 countries for which Johns Hopkins University has collected data, the United States ranks 33rd highest. Fully 101 countries have a lower rate.
Here’s how the United States compares to a select number of other countries:
This comes with a big caveat: The vast majority of countries with lower mortality rates have relatively few cases. It would understandably be easier for these countries to deal with the situation, given their hot spots are smaller (or nonexistent) and that medical resources aren’t being stretched as much.
But even if you isolate just the countries with lots of cases — let’s arbitrarily focus on the 28 countries with at least 10,000 cases — the United States is on the higher end, with the 11th-highest rate. If you isolate the 17 countries with at least 20,000 cases, the United States moves into the lower half, with the 10th-highest rate. If you put the cutoff at 50,000 cases, the United States ranks seventh highest out of 10.
There is also another rate that bears emphasizing: Deaths by population. The United States has more confirmed cases and deaths than any other country, but as Trump and others have rightly noted, it’s still below several smaller European countries that have experienced more death per capita.
While having the most confirmed cases and deaths, the United States ranks 12th on a per capita basis, with 1.4 deaths for 10,000 people of total population. Many of the countries mentioned above have more per capita deaths: Belgium is at more than five per 10,000 people. Spain and Italy are over four. France is over three. Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have all also lost a higher percentage of their populations to the virus.
Trump got closer to an accurate portrayal in his Saturday briefing.
“Remember that: On a per capita basis, our mortality rate is far lower than other nations of Western Europe, with the lone exception of possibly Germany,” Trump said. “This includes the U.K., Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, France. Spain, for example, has a mortality rate that is nearly four times that of the United States, but you don’t hear that. You hear we have more death. But we’re much bigger countries than any of those countries by far.”
That’s an important point. But to say that the overall U.S. mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world isn’t quite right.