For several months, a cadre of right-wing media's biggest bloviators have pushed an insidious conspiracy theory, claiming that America's skyrocketing coronavirus death toll is, in fact, not nearly as high as the Fake News/Deep State/Democrats/Never Trumpers (take your pick) would have you believe.
"Governments are eager, almost, to chalk up as many deaths to coronavirus as they can because then it furthers the policies they have put in place by virtue of their models," radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh exclaimed in early April.
"There may be reasons people seek an inaccurate death count,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson mused a few days later on his eponymous show. “When journalists work with numbers, there sometimes is an agenda."
The theory, such as it is, is as follows: Coronavirus death rates have been artificially inflated, because states are including cases in which people with the virus may have died from other causes, or because deaths that have been attributed to COVID-19 were not confirmed by official lab results.
And now, as is so often the case, the White House is pushing to make what once was a Fox News talking point into official policy, with a new report claiming the Trump administration has begun to pressure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise the way it tabulates coronavirus deaths to exclude the above cases.
According to The Daily Beast, members of President Trump's pandemic task force — including Dr. Debrorah Birx, the administration's coronavirus response coordinator — have started urging the CDC to change the way it counts coronavirus fatalities. Their suggestions are to not include some cases in which a victim did not die as a direct result of their positive infection, or in which no official lab confirmation has been registered, despite the victim being presumed positive by doctors.
This push, which would almost certainly see America's record number of coronavirus fatalities revised downward, comes as medical professionals repeatedly claim that the total death rate is almost certainly being undercounted, rather than overcounted.
"We know that [the official count] is an underestimation," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told The Washington Post in early April.
"We really are just seeing the tip of the [mortality rate] iceberg," Johns Hopkins pulmonologist Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos explained to CNN. "A lot of it has to do with the tests we have available."
Even Birx's task force colleague Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes the mortality rate is likely higher than reported. Speaking with NBC News in early April, Fauci pushed back against the "conspiracy theory" that death tolls were being artificially inflated by unrelated medical conditions. "There is absolutely no evidence that that’s the case at all," Fauci said.
Complicating matters is the fact that doctors still don't have a complete understanding of how coronavirus kills humans, and what secondary effects it may have on the body. So by excluding what are currently considered "indirect" fatalities from the official CDC count, the government may end up ignoring what could later be determined to be a directly caused coronavirus death.
According to The Daily Beast, CDC officials have been pushing back on the president's interference in their tabulations.
"I don’t worry about this over-reporting issue,” Bob Anderson, the chief of the Mortality Statistics branch of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told The Daily Beast. “We’re almost certainly underestimating the number of deaths."
The president, meanwhile, has publicly touted America's mortality statistics, bragging in late April that "I can only say what we’re doing. We’re reporting very accurately."