May 24, 2020 - Health

Trump slams study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 lives


Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump attacked estimates from a Columbia University study on Sunday that projected at least 36,000 American lives could have been saved if lockdowns and social distancing were imposed just one week earlier.

What he's saying: Trump told Full Measure, a show broadcast by Sinclair, "It's a disgrace what I watch from this fake news media and from some of these liberal institutions. Columbia is a liberal, disgraceful institution to write that because all the people that they cater to were months after me, they said we shouldn't close it."

  • "When I ban China from coming in, first time anything like that ever happened, I took tremendous heat. Tremendous, like a level that I've never seen anything like it. And that went on for months. They were criticizing me, sleepy Joe Biden said I'm xenophobic meaning I don't like people, certain people."
  • "And other people said as bad as that or worse. And that was in January. And I saw that report. It's a disgrace that Columbia University would do it, playing right to their little group of people that tell them what to do."

The big picture: The study, released last week, used infection disease modeling to estimate the spread of the virus and death toll until May 2 if reduced contact had been implemented earlier.

  • It estimates that 54,000 deaths — or about 83% of the total by May 2 — could have been avoided if states had implemented coronavirus restrictions on March 1, two weeks earlier than most did.

Trump continued to fight lockdowns into mid-March, tweeting on March 9 that "nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on."

  • His tone changed within the week, as he declared the coronavirus a national emergency on March 13 and began urging Americans to limit travel and stay home in the following days.

Between the lines: Models are only estimates, and distancing measures are incumbent on Americans' willingness to participate.

  • Assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida Natalie Dean told the New York Times: "If things are really taking off, people are likely to clamp down more," adding, "Do people need to hear the sirens for them to stay home?"
  • But as the death toll in the U.S. nears 100,000, the highest in the world, the Columbia research team argues that waiting to take action during that critical March period may have had an exponential impact.
  • “It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths,” Columbia epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman told the New York Times.

The bottom line: The study notes that rapid response to new cases will be essential as states reopen in order to avoid a second wave of the virus.

  • "These findings highlight the dramatic effect that early, coordinated interventions have on the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to further raise public awareness of the ongoing high transmissibility and explosive growth potential of COVID-19 are still needed at this critical time," the Columbia team writes.
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