Behind the scenes, President Donald Trump and top aides are reportedly questioning if the U.S. novel coronavirus death toll is inflated.
Axios reported Wednesday, “President Trump complained to advisers about the way coronavirus deaths are being calculated, suggesting the real numbers are actually lower — and a number of his senior aides share this view, according to sources with direct knowledge.”
A senior White House official has pushed back against the report, reframing Trump’s questions as “skepticism,” citing the inclusion of presumed COVID-19 deaths without testing.
“Skepticism isn’t the right way to frame it. The numbers have been revised up to include presumptive cases — meaning deaths that are believed to be related to COVID but not known for sure,” the official told Axios.
Last month, White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx explained that COVID-19 deaths in the United States have “very liberal” recording guidance, noting that anyone who tests positive for the virus and dies would be included in their numbers of coronavirus deaths.
“I think in this country, we are taking a very liberal approach to mortality,” she said at press briefing. “And I think the reporting here has been pretty straightforward over the last five to six weeks. … If someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that.”
“There are other countries, that if you have a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus called you to go to the ICU (intensive care unit) and then have a heart or kidney problem,” Dr. Birx explained. “Some countries are recording that as a kidney issue, or a heart issue, and not a COVID-19 death.”
In the U.S., Dr. Birx suggested, “we’re still recording it” as a COVID-19 death.
As noted by The Daily Wire on April 14, New York City is including untested patients into their COVID-19 death totals: “New York City added a huge number of deaths to the total number of deaths caused by the coronavirus after deciding to include over 3,700 victims who had not tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have the virus because of their symptoms and medical history.”
Additionally, late last month, Pennsylvania was forced to remove hundreds of coronavirus deaths from its official death count, triggered by questions of accuracy and highlighted discrepancies by area coroners.
“The PA health department decided to include ‘probable’ coronavirus deaths, or an assumed COVID-19-related death without testing for the virus, to their death tolls, dating back days and even weeks ago,” The Daily Wire reported. “But the death toll spike raised questions from coroners who came forward to highlight a discrepancy in death totals, which were not adding up to the number of all-cause deaths. The scrutiny triggered multiple revisions and statements from the department, including the removal of 200 ‘probable’ COVID-19 deaths and a claim of computer ‘glitching.'”
Fact-checking sites including USA Today, Politifact, and Snopes have confirmed that hospitals get paid more money if a patient is coded for the novel coronavirus, even if they haven’t been tested in some states. Hospitals get a 20% add-on for COVID-19-coded patients and roughly three times as much if such patients are placed on a ventilator.
In the beginning of April, physician and State Sen. Scott Jensen (R-MN) notified the public of the policy and later emphasized on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” that “any time health care intersects with dollars, it gets awkward.”
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