Why Trump Is Making Coronavirus Death Toll Projections

A daily Covid-19 update from Andy Slavitt, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
6 min readMar 30, 2020


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Pulled from my daily COVID-19 updates on Twitter

Tonight’s update is going get to the heart of how Trump decided to make the leap to start discussing the potential US death toll from Coronavirus. I talked to Italy, the White House, US hospitals and others about what they see and what they expect.

No one in their right minds will want to go through what we’re about to go through the next few months.

This is such a sensitive topic. One death from this virus is too many. Numbers fly around as if they’re not attached to lives. People want predictions, but they don’t like what they hear. Big numbers scare people and yet they motivate people. We need to plan for Covid-19 to beat Covid-19.

So I will discuss what I’m hearing, but I don’t make predictions. And we all have a lot to say about how many people lose their lives. That’s why people must #StayHome to reduce the spread. So the estimate of loss of life are a big range.

At his news conference yesterday, President Trump began to talk about 100,000 to 200,000 casualties for the first time. He mentioned that the number without action would be 2.2 million. 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam. 620,000 in the Civil War. 1.2 million in all American wars.

I got some insight into how Trump decided to make the announcement of a projected death toll. I don’t know the order of events, but at the beginning of last week, he was at “let’s open by Easter” and “the medicine is worse than the disease.” But he changed by the end of the week.

Why? A lot of us (take “us” to mean anybody who had studied the data and were considered to have expertise or experience here) were very worried. Rash, impulsive, impatient, feel-good thinking was not what we needed. It was only about a month ago, after all, that he projected we will be at zero cases, and has slowly lagged the reality only as events on the ground forced him.

We are paying the price for the on the job training presidency.