Last Tuesday, Trump, looking sober for the cameras, said the coronavirus task force was predicting 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths from COVID-19, and that the lower number would be “a good job.” At the time, people wondered where the number came from. When Wolf Blitzer asked Pence the next day where that number had come from, Pence dodged the question.
It turns out Pence had good reason to waffle: Trump made the numbers up.
Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week.The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity but that they don’t know how the White House arrived at them.White House officials have refused to explain how they generated the figure — a death toll bigger than the United States suffered in the Vietnam War or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They have not provided the underlying data so others can assess its reliability or provided long-term strategies to lower that death count.
Dr. Fauci and other experts say that they don’t have anywhere near enough data to make any kind of estimate yet. And not surprising;y, the White House has refused to provide any explanation of how they arrived at that number nor any data they used in making their calculations.
Almost the entirety of what the public knows about the death projection was presented on a single slide at a briefing Tuesday from the White House coronavirus task force. A White House representative said the task force has not publicly released the models it drew from out of respect for the confidentiality of the modelers, many of whom approached the White House unsolicited and simply want to continue their work without publicity.
Of course, scientists don’t work that way. They submit their data and their methods for peer review as standard scientific practice; doing anything else would be scientific malpractice.
And one of the modelers they approached did speak out: Harvard University’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
“They contacted us, I think, on a Tuesday a week ago, and asked for answers and feedback by Thursday, basically 24 hours,” he said. “My initial response was we can’t do it that fast. But we ended up providing them some numbers responding to very specific scenarios.”
Also, let us note that Trump didn’t provide a time frame for this death count.
Other experts noted that the White House didn’t even explain the time period the death estimate supposedly captures — just the coming few months, or the year-plus it will take to deploy a vaccine.
My thinking is that Trump still thinks he has this under control, that the death rate will be nowhere near that high, and that this fall, as the campaign heats up, he will argue that he kept fatalities under projections and saved the American people. Unfortunately, his fantasies and the real word are heading for a head-on collision, and we’re in the middle.
Additional thought: There have been unconfirmed stories that some red states are underreporting deaths, putting some other cause of death on the certificate. That would also fit this scenario.