President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force are pressuring officials at the Centers for Disease Control to dial down the number of COVID-19 deaths.
Five administration officials working on the pandemic response told The Daily Beast that the White House has pressed the CDC to work with states to revise how they count coronavirus deaths and report them back to the federal government.
Dr. Deborah Birx, in particular, has urged CDC officials to exclude some individuals who are presumed positive but don’t have confirmed lab results or those who have the virus but may not have died as a direct result, according to three senior administration officials.
Trump has privately complained that the death toll — which has risen above 83,000 as of Wednesday morning — may have been inflated using the CDC’s current methodology, and he has asked for a “review” of how the deaths are counted and studied.
He has cited hypothetical cases where a COVID-19 patient may have fallen down a flight of stairs to their death but was counted as a coronavirus fatality, and some of his allies are making similar claims.
“My view is the president is totally correct that we need to have medical transparency,” said conservative economist Art Laffer, who has advised the White House on reopening businesses. “When you attribute a death to the coronavirus today, what that means is that the guy had the coronavirus and died. It doesn’t matter if he got hit by a car and died, and he would still be categorized as a coronavirus death.”
Five CDC officials told The Daily Beast they are pushing back against the request, and scientists and doctors working with the task force say the death count is likely higher than government statistics currently show.
Local officials in some hot spot areas say they’ve seen hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, more deaths over the past two months than over the same period in the last several years — and they presume those people had contracted the virus.
“The system can always get better. But if we’ve learned anything it’s that we’re seeing some of these individuals who have died of the virus slip through the cracks,” one official told The Daily Beast. “It’s not that we’re overcounting.”