Public health experts are in agreement that the number of deaths in the coronavirus pandemic is being undercounted due to a lack of comprehensive testing. But that’s not stopping conservative media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh from continuing to insist that the death count is somehow being inflated in order to advance a political agenda.
The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported this past Sunday that the death count from COVID-19 is likely being seriously undercounted, as are total cases, due to a lack of testing capacity even in cases where a person had clearly shown symptoms. The Times explained that in epidemics such as coronavirus, “public health experts say that under typical circumstances it takes months or years to compile data that is as accurate as possible on deaths. The reporting system during an epidemic of this scale is particularly strained.”
The Post reported:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only deaths in which the presence of the coronavirus is confirmed in a laboratory test. “We know that it is an underestimation,” agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.
A widespread lack of access to testing in the early weeks of the U.S. outbreak means people with respiratory illnesses died without being counted, epidemiologists say. Even now, some people who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested, according to funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives.
Postmortem testing by medical examiners varies widely across the country, and some officials say testing the dead is a misuse of scarce resources that could be used on the living.
But on Tuesday’s edition of his radio show, Limbaugh did not even dispute that people who died have indeed had coronavirus, but instead argued that their deaths should not be chalked up to COVID-19 if it simply “hastened” underlying health conditions they might have already had. “There may be some politics involved,” he concluded.
During the same broadcast, Limbaugh alleged that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts at the national level were “Hillary Clinton sympathizers” conspiring to “get rid of Donald Trump.”
Limbaugh had laid out his political conspiracy theory around coronavirus deaths in detail last week.
“People die on this planet every day from a wide variety of things,” he said on the April 2 edition of his show. “But because the coronavirus is out there, got everybody paranoid, 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.”
Media Matters’ Matt Gertz previously documented how this conspiracy theory was also put forward by Fox News personalities Brit Hume and Mark Levin. (Hume wrote that the numbers from New York did not “distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it.”)
Expect this argument to gain increasing credence on Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing media. In an effort to explain away the president’s failure to contain the coronavirus, Trumpists will absurdly declare that the “real” coronavirus death toll is much lower than it is. They will pretend not to see the refrigerator trucks outside hospitals serving as temporary morgues to hold the excess of bodies, or the mass graves under construction as their final resting place.