Trump retweets conspiracy theory questioning COVID-19 death toll

President Trump over the weekend retweeted a conspiracy theory falsely claiming that only about 9,000 people had “actually” died from coronavirus, instead of about 150,000.

Twitter later removed the tweet, written by a user named “Mel Q,” who is also a believer of the QAnon conspiracy theory, saying it violated its rules.

The now-deleted tweet pointed to a post on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website saying that “for 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”

But contrary to the claim in the tweet, that does not mean that the other 94 percent did not die from the coronavirus. Many of the remaining deaths were listed as also having conditions that are directly caused by the coronavirus, such as “respiratory failure.” Others had underlying conditions that are not necessarily deadly on their own, but that make coronavirus worse, such as obesity and diabetes.

“When you see that ‘only 6%’ of people had COVID-19 as the sole reason listed on their death forms, what it means is that there were only a small fraction of people who died of the disease who didn’t have any other underlying or immediate causes noted by the medical certifiers,” wrote Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz. “This is completely unsurprising, as it’s pretty rare that someone wouldn’t have at least one issue caused by coronavirus prior to their death, and all it means is that in 94% of cases people who had COVID-19 also developed other issues, or had other problems at the same time.”

Trump’s retweet of the post indicates a desire to downplay the heavy death toll from the virus, a key issue as the election nears, and his willingness to retweet posts from fringe accounts like those of QAnon supporters.

Another tweet, from Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis, has not been removed by Twitter, and links to an article in the fringe site Gateway Pundit about the 6 percent statistic. That tweet was also retweeted by Trump.

The CDC chart in question lists a total of 161,392 deaths from coronavirus, as of Aug. 22. Other sources put the death toll even higher. Johns Hopkins University lists over 183,000 deaths from coronavirus in the United States.

A New York Times analysis earlier this month put the true death toll at at least 200,000, by looking at a metric called “excess deaths,” meaning how many more deaths there were overall compared to normal levels from past years.

Asked at a press briefing Monday if Trump was trying to downplay the death toll with the retweets, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “No, he was highlighting new CDC information that came out that was worth noting.”
“He was just pointing to those numbers,” she said.  
Tags Conspiracy Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump QAnon

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