“I think one of the things we’re most proud of is, this just came out — deaths per 100,000 people, death,” Trump said. “So deaths per 100,000 people — Germany and the United States are at the lowest rung of that ladder. Meaning low is a positive, not a negative. Germany, the United States are the two best in deaths per 100,000 people, which frankly, to me, that’s perhaps the most important number there is.”
It would be perhaps the most important number if it were anywhere close to true.
It’s true that, while the United States has the most confirmed coronavirus cases and the most confirmed coronavirus deaths, it lags behind some Western European countries when it comes to per capita deaths. I wrote about this a week ago, noting that the raw number can be deceiving when it comes to the total impact on countries.
But the United States is nowhere close to having one of the lowest per capita death rates. In fact, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, we rank ninth-highest out of more than 140 countries for which information is available.
Even if you focus on Western Europe — which Trump didn’t — the United States ranks behind the following countries on per capita deaths:
Here’s a chart comparing the 30 countries with the highest per capita death rates:
Pairing the United States with Germany is another puzzling decision. Germany is one of the envies of the Western world when it comes to its coronavirus response, having ramped up testing very early and then dealing with a far less significant outbreak than its neighbors. But putting the United States next to it is ridiculous; Germany has about nine deaths per 100,000 people, as compared with about 24 per 100,000 people in the United States.
At least with many of Trump’s other claims, there’s the possibility they might feasibly be true once we learn about the situation in this country or what lay ahead. For instance, Trump also said Monday that people who want to return to work can get tested daily “very soon,” which we’re clearly a very, very long way away from. But is it at least theoretically possible? Sure.
It seems possible Trump misunderstood a chart from Johns Hopkins that actually shows the case-fatality rate for each country -- i.e. the number of deaths not by population, but relative to the number of confirmed cases. This chart currently appears on the JHU website:
But that isn’t deaths per 100,000 people. And the chart isn’t of all countries, but rather a select group of some of the biggest. Some smaller ones have much larger case-fatality rates; the United States is still well inside the top half.
It’s a valid point to raise that the situation in the United States on a per-capita basis isn’t as bad as the raw numbers suggest. We are one of the biggest countries. But to suggest we’re at the bottom of the ladder on either of these measures is simply false. And it would seem to indicate either a striking inability to be discerning with data by the president or a desire to mislead the country about the true nature of the situation in which we find ourselves.
This post has been updated.