“Data erasure and the manufacture of mass confusion have already begun.”
Sunday, April 5
Decision-making by the U.S. government early on during the coronavirus outbreak has likely led to the country severely undercounting the number of deaths from the virus, officially known as COVID-19, according to public health experts.
As of Sunday, more than 328,000 people in the U.S. had confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and more than 9,000 have died of the respiratory disease. But as the Washington Post reported Sunday, many deaths from respiratory failure and other recorded causes in the first weeks that the virus was spreading across the globe and the country may actually have been related to COVID-19.
Even now that testing is more widely available in the U.S., the Post reported Sunday, potential coronavirus patients in nursing homes and prisons, where the disease is spreading rapidly, have limited access. The CDC is only including a death in the official toll if the patient had a lab test confirming coronavirus.
“We know that it is an underestimation,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told the Post.
Meanwhile, South Korea was testing about 10,000 people per day as of mid-March, giving the government an accurate measure of who had the disease and needed to be quarantined. The country’s reported death toll is under 200.
The United States’ “most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measures to contain them,” wrote Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller at the Post on Saturday.
Last week, some were shocked to read reports out of Italy that officials there were not counting people who died of COVID-19 at home rather than in a hospital in their official count of coronavirus-related deaths.
With reports of undercounting in other countries, Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute wrote at the time, “anyone have confidence Trump isn’t?”
China is undercounting.
Iran is undercounting.
Italy is undercounting.
Spain is undercounting.
France is undercounting.
Anyone have confidence Trump isn't? https://t.co/NUT4UbqwEY
— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) March 30, 2020
In early March, President Donald Trump explicitly expressed a desire to undercount the cases of coronavirus in the country, demanding that a cruise ship carrying at least 21 people who had contracted the virus keep the passengers on board instead of allowing them to get care in the United States.
“I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said at the time. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
After the pandemic ends, media critic Jay Rosen tweeted, the administration’s attempts to hide information about how it spiraled out of control “is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern U.S. history.”
The battle to prevent Americans from understanding what went down January to April is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern US history. https://t.co/Ggf3vFZXcC Data erasure and the manufacture of mass confusion have already begun.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 5, 2020
“It may never be known how many thousands of deaths, or millions of infections, might have been prevented with a response that was more coherent, urgent and effective,” reported the Post. “But even now, there are many indications the administration’s handling of the crisis had potentially devastating consequences.”
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