Trump returns to comparing COVID-19 to the flu: 'We have learned to live with it'

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President Trump on Tuesday continued to downplay the threat of the coronavirus after his release from the hospital while still under treatment for COVID-19, asserting that the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans is “far less lethal” than the seasonal flu “in most populations.”

“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. “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!!!”

Across the whole population, though, COVID-19 has been much deadlier. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the worst flu season in the last 10 years was 2017-2018, when an estimated 61,000 Americans died. In 2018-2019, there were 34,000 U.S. deaths attributed to influenza. In 2019-2020, there were 22,000.

And comparative fatality figures don’t tell the whole story. There is increasing evidence that some number of coronavirus survivors have symptoms including fatigue, cough and cognitive problems that last for months, and organ damage that may be permanent. Those complications generally do not arise in people who recover from the flu.

Facebook removed an identical post on the president’s page that falsely suggested that the virus is “far less lethal” because it violated the social media platform’s rules regarding misinformation about COVID-19. Twitter subsequently labeled the tweet as violating its rules against spreading “misleading and potentially harmful information.”

On Monday night, Trump returned to the White House after a 72-hour stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for coronavirus treatment. Since testing positive for COVID-19 late last week, the president has received an experimental antibody cocktail along with the antiviral remdesivir and the anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone.

In announcing his pending departure from the hospital, Trump tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” He later posted a video to Twitter doubling down on that message, adding: “Now I’m better, and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.” In reality, Trump likely remains contagious, and researchers have not yet concluded whether infection with the coronavirus conveys lifelong immunity from reinfection.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 210,000 people in the U.S. have died from complications related to COVID-19, none of whom received near the same level of medical care that the president received at Walter Reed.

President Trump gives a thumbs up to photographers upon returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Trump gives a thumbs-up to photographers upon returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Trump has long sought to publicly downplay the severity of the coronavirus while privately acknowledging its threat.

In an interview with Bob Woodward on Feb. 7, he told the journalist that he knew the virus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said, adding: “This is deadly stuff.”

But in a tweet on March 9, the president expressed the opposite view.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” he tweeted. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

This was an effort, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany explained after excerpts from Woodward’s book appeared, to avoid creating a “panic.”

McEnany disclosed on Monday that she, like more than a dozen other people who have been in contact with Trump over the last week and a half, has tested positive for the virus.


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