Science Reporter

— Mr. Trump

This is misleading.

Mr. Trump began the debate by citing a statistic that made the rounds in the early days of the pandemic. In the spring, scientists warned that, in the absence of mitigating measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus, some 2.2 million Americans could die. With mitigation, experts projected, those numbers might be closer to 100,000 to 200,000. Months later, the United States has surpassed that more modest mark — and there is not yet an end in sight. With more than 220,000 already dead, cases around the country are yet again on the rise, with some warning that the nation has already begun its third peak.

It’s true that death rates appear to have substantially declined since the pandemic began. Experts have attributed this to a combination of increased testing, better and more tailored treatments, increased measures such as physical distancing and masking and a downward shift in the average age of those infected, among other factors. But it’s unclear how Mr. Trump arrived at the very specific figure of 85 percent. Politifact previously investigated this figure, which the president has promoted before, suggesting it may have come from a chart compiled by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya — one of several scientists who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic and urged widespread reopenings across the country. Excess American deaths attributable to the pandemic — which number in the hundreds of thousands — are also not the lowest in the world.

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