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Donald Trump
stated on October 6, 2020 in a tweet:
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the vaccine, die from the flu … we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal."
true false
President Donald Trump removes his mask on his return to the White House  after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) President Donald Trump removes his mask on his return to the White House  after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump removes his mask on his return to the White House after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 6, 2020

Donald Trump’s false claim that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu

If Your Time is short

  • The average number of flu deaths each year has been about 36,000.

  • So far, about 210,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 is estimated to be about 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu.

President Donald Trump’s fight with COVID-19 has left him striking a defiant tone. When he headed back to the White House from the hospital, he advised people on Twitter, "Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life."

He followed that up with another tweet the next morning.

"Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu," he wrote Oct. 6. "Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!"

Twitter has now flagged that tweet for "sharing misleading and potentially harmful information" about COVID-19. For the same reason, a similar post from Trump on Facebook was taken down completely. 

In the U.S. so far this year, about 210,000 people have died from COVID-19.

Trump’s figure for the number of people who have died from seasonal flu is wrong on its face, and distorts the government’s actual estimates.

For the worst season this decade — 2017-18 — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the death toll at 61,000. Taking into account uncertainties in reporting flu deaths, the CDC offered a range of 46,000 to 95,000 deaths.

But the more typical range is significantly lower.

The average number of deaths per year over the past decade has been 35,900. And even taking the high-end of the range for each year, the average is 51,800. That’s half Trump’s number.

Infectious disease researcher Marm Kilpatrick at University of California Santa Cruz said one has to go back to 1968 to find a seasonal death toll of 100,000 — and that was when a brand new strain emerged.

Trump also said that for "most populations," COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu.

That’s also wrong, but it reflects that the patterns for the two diseases are different.

Featured Fact-check

The CDC reports that flu is most deadly for children and the elderly. The CDC said that "the risk of complications for healthy children is higher for flu compared to COVID-19."

Broadly, for people of all ages who show flu symptoms, the CDC data shows a death rate of about 0.1%. Given that the CDC says only about half of all flu infections lead to symptoms, the actual infection fatality rate could be in the range of 0.05%.

Data on COVID-19 remains a moving target, and current estimates should be seen in that light.

Using the CDC’s age-specific data on COVID-19, and the U.S. age distribution, Kilpatrick estimated the infection death rate for COVID-19 is about 0.7%. That’s in the ballpark of other estimates, and would make the coronavirus more than 10 times more deadly than the flu.

Drilling into the details for different age groups, Kilpatrick cautioned that the data is still emerging. But he said the best comparison he’s found of the death rates among age groups for COVID-19 and the seasonal flu comes from independent researcher Marc Bevand.

Bevand drew on 13 studies of COVID-19 and the CDC’s influenza data. In every age group over the age of 30, COVID-19 was more deadly than the flu.

For people in their 30s, COVID-19 was 2.9 times more deadly. For those in their 70s, it was 14.4 times deadlier.

The CDC doesn’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison of flu and COVID-19 deaths by age. It currently estimates that the COVID-19 death rate ranges from .003% for children and teens to 5.4% for people 70 and up. 

We reached out to the White House and the Trump campaign and did not hear back.

Our ruling

Trump said that more than 100,000 people die from the flu and "in most populations, COVID-19 is far less lethal."

In the past decade, the average yearly death toll from the flu has been 35,900. About 50 years ago, 100,000 people died one year, but that was an anomaly.

Overall, the data show that COVID-19 is more deadly than the flu. By one estimate, it is 10 times more deadly.

Comparing death rates for age groups is more challenging, but the data shows that for everyone over 30, COVID-19 is deadlier than the flu.

We rate this claim False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, tweet, Oct. 6, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Disease Burden of Influenza, Oct. 1, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios, Sept. 10, 2020

Health Affairs, Estimating The Infection Fatality Rate Among Symptomatic COVID-19 Cases In The United States, May 7, 2020

Marc Bevand, Comparing COVID-19 to seasonal influenza, Oct. 1, 2020

Stat, Is Covid-19 growing less lethal? The infection fatality rate says ‘no’, Aug. 24, 2020

Email exchange, Marm Kilpatrick, assistant professor of infectious disease, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz,

Email exchange, Bonny Specker, professor of epidemiology, South Dakota State University, Oct. 6, 2020

 

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Donald Trump’s false claim that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu

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