Story at a glance

  • Trump on Thursday criticized a study that estimated roughly 36,000 fewer people in the U.S. would have died from COVID-19 if the country imposed social distancing measures just one week earlier than it did in March.
  • On Tuesday, he called a study that found more deaths among patients who took the drug hydroxychloroquine a “bad survey.”
  • Trump announced Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquine.

President Trump at least twice this week has made statements undermining several scientific findings related to the coronavirus, accusing some researchers behind the studies of being motivated by politics to undermine his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

On Wednesday, The New York Times published findings from a Columbia University study that showed tens of thousands of American lives could have been saved if social distancing measures were put in place sooner. 


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The university’s disease modelers estimated that roughly 36,000 fewer people in the U.S. would have died from COVID-19 if the country imposed restrictions just one week earlier than it did in March. The research has yet to be peer-reviewed, and the models are only estimates, subject to change with new information. 

As Trump departed the White House for a trip to Michigan Thursday, he continued to defend his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and sought to discredit the study’s findings. 

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“I was so early. I was earlier than anybody thought. I put a ban on people coming in from China,” Trump told reporters. 

“Columbia is an institution that’s very liberal,” he added without providing any evidence or specifics. “I think it’s just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.” 

The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for its response to the outbreak, as the president downplayed the threat even as deaths and infections in the U.S. began to increase across the country. After the study’s release, the White House took aim at China and the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing both of failing to inform the world about the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have first emerged. 

“What would have saved lives is if China had been transparent and the World Health Organization had fulfilled its mission,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Washington Post. “What did save American lives is the bold leadership of President Trump.” 

The president’s pushback against the Columbia research followed comments he made earlier in the week, dismissing a retrospective cohort study funded partly by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has not been reviewed by other scientists, that raised concerns about the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. The study looked at the outcomes of COVID-19 patients at hospitals run by the Veterans Health Administration, and found more deaths among patients who took the drug as opposed to those who received standard care. 

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters Tuesday, adding, “It was a Trump enemy statement.” 

“I think it gives you an additional level of safety, but you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it...many frontline workers won’t go there unless they have the hydroxy, and so again this is an individual decision to make. But it’s had a great reputation, and if it were somebody else other than me people would say ‘gee isn’t that smart,” Trump said.

Trump, who has championed hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus treatment and “gamechanger” announced Monday he’s been taking the drug, despite a warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month that it should not be taken outside of a hospital or clinical trials due to the risk of severe heart problems. 

The president has pushed the drug’s potential use in treating COVID-19 after some initial studies from Europe showed success in treating patients with the drug. But other trials have cast doubt on its utility in treating the coronavirus, and caused concern about harmful side effects. 

A study of 96,000 patients published Friday in the medical journal Lancet found COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine had a much higher risk of death than those who were not. It also found that patients who were treated with the drugs faced a higher risk of abnormal heartbeats, called arrhythmias, which could result in cardiac arrest. 

The study was a retrospective analysis of medical records of patients in 671 hospitals located on six continents, but was not a randomized controlled clinical trial, which is seen as the gold standard in science.

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Published on May 22, 2020