Trump bragged that the coronavirus case fatality rate is lower in the US than Europe, but that's only because so many Americans are sick

  • President Trump on Tuesday boasted that the US' coronavirus case fatality rate "is lower than the European Union, and almost everywhere else in the world."
  • That may be true, but it's also misleading.
  • Because so many Americans are sick with the virus right now, the case fatality rate is low, but that doesn't mean the disease is any less deadly here.
  • In fact, when you look at the number of Americans who've died from the virus on a population-wide basis, the US is on par with much of Europe and outpaces many other rich countries around the world. 
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President Donald Trump gave a somber message about the coronavirus outbreak in the US at a Tuesday press conference.

"It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better," Trump said of the outbreak, which is hitting many southern US states hard right now, adding that is "something I don't like saying about things, but that's the way it is."

But Trump still did not shy away from bragging about one coronavirus metric which — when taken at face value — seems to suggest the US is doing better than most other countries at beating back deadly coronavirus infections. 

"Our case fatality rate has continued to decline, and is lower than the European Union, and almost everywhere else in the world," Trump told reporters during his solo briefing at the White House Tuesday afternoon.

That is true, but the reason why the case fatality rate continues to decline in the US is largely because more people are getting sick in the country every day, driving the fatality rate down, relative to the number of cases overall.

Just look at how the rate of new coronavirus infections has skyrocketed in the US over time:

That kind of increase is not happening in Europe right now, where shutdown restrictions were tighter, and the virus was near-extinguished before people re-emerged into public life. 

The case fatality rate statistic shouldn't be worn as a badge of honor by the US. 

If anything, it's an indication of how poorly the US is containing its coronavirus outbreak right now, relative to other spots around the globe.  

"We've done much better than most," Trump said, while referring to the coronavirus only as the "China virus" during the briefing. 

"With the fatality rate at a lower rate than most, it's something that we can talk about," he added. 

A country's death rate per capita is a better metric of success 

A better metric to determine how the US is performing relative to other countries when it comes to coronavirus deaths would be to look at the country's coronavirus death rate per capita, that is, the number of deaths per 100,000 people who live in a country, both the sick and the well.

The US death rate per capita hovers around 43 per 100,000 people, roughly on par with much of Europe, including France (45/100,000) Sweden (55/100,000) Italy (58/100,000) Spain (61/100,000) and the UK (68/100,000), according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus resource center.

It's a far worse rate than many other large, rich countries, including Canada (24/100,000), Germany (11/100,000), and Japan (1/100,000).

That American death rate could still get worse in the weeks and months to come, if the virus continues to spread, uncontrolled, in many states, as it is now across Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, and a majority of other US states.

Perhaps that's why the President broke with much of his own pandemic precedent in the briefing, urging people to wear face masks when they can't properly social distance, avoid "packed" bars, and "be safe and be smart" in the days ahead. 

"I'm getting used to the mask," Trump said. "I view it this way: anything that can potentially help — and that certainly can potentially help — is a good thing."

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