The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At least 3,000 Americans have probably died of covid-19 while Trump has played golf

President Trump talks on a cellphone as he enters the White House in Washington on Sept. 6 after returning from the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. (Mike Theiler/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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There have been two times during President Trump’s time in office during which he has avoided visiting any of the properties his private company owns.

The first was in late 2018 and early 2019, when the federal government was shut down and heading to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays seemed like a bad idea politically. The second was earlier this year, as the novel coronavirus spread in the United States and the official White House position was that Americans should limit their activity.

By May, though, Trump was chafing at such restrictions, both broadly, given his desire for a positive economic story to tell before the November elections, and personally. During a news conference before Memorial Day weekend, Deborah Birx, coordinator of the government’s coronavirus response, very pointedly cleared the country to at least return to normal outdoor activity.

“As you go out this weekend … understand, you can go out, you can be outside, you can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls,” Birx said. “You can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart.”

Americans needed little encouragement, heading back outside in huge numbers that weekend — and helping drive a new surge in coronavirus infections. (In an interview in late July, Birx acknowledged that Memorial Day activity was a source of the new surge.)

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Trump himself didn’t need much encouragement, either, heading back to the golf course the day after Birx said that Americans were approved to do so. He has probably played golf on 26 additional occasions since then.

This reversion to Trump’s normal pattern of activity (he has played once every 5.4 days as president) has been seen by some critics as an accidental or intentional failure to recognize that the pandemic is still largely out of control. When Birx suggested that people could get back to normal activity, the country was seeing about 22,500 new confirmed cases a day. Now, the country is seeing about 39,000 new cases each day.

There are also more than 800 Americans dying of the virus each day, on average. That’s down from late May, but it’s still a heavy toll.

If the 815 deaths occurring each day at this point were evenly spread out over the course of 24 hours, it would mean that an American is dying about once every 105 seconds. It would mean, in other words, that during the period during which Trump was gone from the White House on Sunday to play golf at his private club in Sterling, Va., about 150 Americans would have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

If we use this same calculation for all of Trump’s rounds of golf since the first recorded death from the virus in the United States, it’s probable that at least 3,000 Americans have died of covid-19 while Trump has been playing golf.

There are a lot of caveats that apply. One is that the White House almost never confirms that Trump has played golf on any given day, in an apparent attempt to mask the frequency with which he does so. Nonetheless, between news reports and social media posts, the site TrumpGolfCount has confirmed 24 of the probable 31 rounds Trump has played since Feb. 2. (Those that remain unconfirmed mostly took place at Trump golf clubs where media access is more limited.)

Another is that the number of confirmed deaths on a given day probably doesn’t precisely match the deaths that occurred. Some states record deaths that occurred days or weeks prior as part of their daily numbers, for example. Over weekends, state tallies are generally lower, a function of more limited reporting. This is why we generally look at the seven-day average of new cases and deaths, and not the raw number of deaths on a day.

By our estimate, Trump’s spent more than 121 hours since Feb. 2 either playing golf (assigning three hours per unseen round at his clubs in Bedminster, N.J., or Palm Beach) or traveling to and from his club in Sterling. Comparing those durations with the number of confirmed deaths on each day, we get a range of between 3,037, based on the reported number of deaths each day, and 3,862 deaths, based on the seven-day average. The variation between those numbers is largely a function of Trump’s generally playing golf on the weekend, when reported death figures are generally lower than during the week. If we use only the average number of deaths on days when Trump’s been confirmed to have played golf, the total is 3,163.

These figures are probably conservative in one way: Coronavirus deaths have almost certainly been undercounted. That was more true earlier in the pandemic, but it probably remains true to some extent.

Last week, Trump claimed during a briefing that the United States is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic, an assertion that he has made in some form since shortly after the pandemic began. The country remains a short period away from seeing the coronavirus dissipate, Trump asserts, over and over — a claim clearly meant to serve as a rationalization for Americans going about their business as usual.

For Trump, that means, among other things, heading back out to the golf course. And inviting comparisons like the one outlined above.