Top US medical officials on Sunday contradicted outgoing President Donald Trump’s claims that the country’s escalating Covid-19 death figures had been grossly exaggerated.
As the number of fatalities from coronavirus rose above 340,000 over the weekend, Mr Trump dismissed the figures as “fake news”, claiming the method used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to count cases was out of step with other countries.
“The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov’s ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low,” the president tweeted on Sunday morning.
“When in doubt, call it Covid. Fake News!”
In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said the numbers of Covid-19 deaths “are real” and that the evidence can be seen in hospitals across the country.
Speaking on CNN, Dr Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general, also said there was “no reason to doubt those numbers” of Covid-19 deaths.
The US had recorded 341,746 Covid-19 deaths as of January 2, according to the Covid Tracking Project. On Sunday, Arizona reported a record 17,234 daily coronavirus cases. Arkansas reported a record 1,216 new Covid-19 hospitalisation on January 2, according to Associated Press.
Dr Fauci said the US had failed to vaccinate people as quickly as needed. The US has vaccinated significantly fewer people than the 20m it had targeted by the end of the year.
“We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got to do much better,” Dr Fauci said. “Let’s give it about a week or two into January to see if we can pick up momentum that was slowed down by the holiday season.”
Dr Fauci also warned that the more contagious coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7, that started spreading rapidly in the UK in December, was “going to spread” in the US too. He said the strain did not appear to be more deadly.
“It could and likely will get worse in the next couple of weeks, or at least maintain this very terribly high level of infections and deaths that we’re seeing,” Dr Fauci said.
“Regardless of what kind of strain you have circulating out there, you’ve got to adhere to the public health measures,” Mr Fauci said. “And that will stop the spread of any strain.”
President Trump has regularly fought battles with the medical community over coronavirus, and with Dr Fauci in particular.
After the infectious disease expert’s interview, the president took to Twitter to complain that Dr Fauci had not given his administration credit for addressing the pandemic.