Only five days after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, he has downplayed the virus multiple times on social media, saying people shouldn’t be afraid of coronavirus and they shouldn’t let it dominate their lives. These messages came after he was released from Walter Reed Hospital where he received experimental treatments and state-of-the-art medical care.
On October 6 the president Tweeted and posted misinformation on Facebook in which he claimed “sometimes” 100,000 people die each year due to influenza. According to information published by the Centers for Disease Control, in each flu season since 2010 between 12,000 – 61,000 American’s have died from the flu.
Both social media networks removed the false statement from the President’s feed, but Twitter kept the tweet “accessible”.
Trump’s post said, “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. 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!!!”
To which Twitter responded, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
210,181 Americans Have Died From Coronavirus in the Last 7 Months. An Estimated 22,000 Died From Flu in the 2019-2020 Season
While Trump claimed that “sometimes” 100,000 people die from the flu in a season, according to the CDC, who has estimated flu deaths for several decades, in the last flu season, 22,000 people died from complications of the flu.
The highest estimate the CDC reports for flu deaths in the last decade is 61,000 during the 2017-2018 flu season. The closest after that was 51,000 in the 2014-2015 flu season.
Between 1976 and 2007 the CDC estimates the least amount of people to die from flu in those 31 years was 961 and the maximum U.S. flu deaths were 14,715.
At the time of this writing, 210,181 Americans have lost their lives to coronavirus, according to The Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, since the first person was reported to have died from the disease in the U.S. on February 29.
It is important to note, though, that the CDC only estimates flu deaths and does not have hard numbers for several reasons, one of which is that flu deaths are not reportable to the agency if it occurs in someone over 18. Another is “seasonal flu is infrequently listed on death certificates of people who die from flu-related complications,” according to the CDC. That’s because often having the flu exacerbates an already existing condition and the cause of death would be listed as such.
The CDC works from statistical and mathematical models, then they publish a fairly wide range of possible deaths from the virus each year and average it out.
The closest thing to Trump’s claim of “sometimes” 100,000 people die from the flu in a year is from the CDC’s 2017-2018 high and low estimate. While they estimate about 61,000 died, the possible range that year, the CDC reported, was 46,000 to 95,000.
Trump’s Tweet Did Not Meet the Full Criteria for Removal but It Was Flagged for Being Misleading & Causing Confusion
Facebook completely took down Trump’s Tweet that implied Coronavirus is similar to the flu in its capacity to cause death, according to CNN’s Ronnie O’Sullivan, but Twitter’s policies are different.
According to Twitter’s policy on misleading information about COVID-19 being posted on their site, they consider three questions: “Is the content advancing a claim of fact regarding COVID-19? Is the claim demonstrably false or misleading? Would belief in this information, as presented, lead to harm?”
In the case of Trump alleging that “sometimes” 100,000 people die from the flu in a year, there is no hard evidence that is correct, and the information that is available tops out at estimated flu deaths at 61,000.
On the other hand, the CDC admits that their estimates of flu deaths are based on scientific calculations rather than flu test results and cause of death listings on death certificates. Yet those calculations are still the best and most reliable numbers available, and never have the estimates reached 100,000 people dying in a single flu season.