Donald Trump said this week that he did not know people could die from the flu virus — leading many to point out that the president’s own grandfather died of the flu during one of the worst outbreaks in the United States.
As the Independent noted, Trump said that he recently learned how widespread the common flu is in the U.S. and had no idea that people could even die from the serious ailment.
“Over the last long period of time, you have an average of 36,000 people dying (per year),” Trump said during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday to discuss the outbreak of the coronavirus. “I never heard those numbers. I would’ve been shocked. I would’ve said, ‘Does anybody die from the flu? I didn’t know people died from the flu.’… And again, you had a couple of years where it was over a 100,000 people died from the flu.”
As the Daily Beast reported, the president’s grandfather, Frederick Trump, was one of the first people to die in the U.S. during what was known as the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. The report noted that Frederick Trump was taking a walk with his 12-year-old son, also named Frederick, when he suddenly fell ill. He died the following day.
The younger Frederick would later go on to marry and have four children, the youngest of them Donald Trump.
This Spanish flu outbreak killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, a death toll that experts say was made worse by nations downplaying the seriousness of the health crisis. The epidemic struck during World War I, and many of the countries affected took action to prevent news about the flu’s spread from being published. Spain wasn’t involved in the war and was one of the few nations to report accurately on the disease and its spread, leading to misconceptions that the flu originated there.
Trump’s administration has fielded similar criticism about its handling of the coronavirus, including plenty of critiques aimed at Trump himself. Critics say that the president has downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak and spread misinformation about the coronavirus being contained as cases were being reported across the country. Trump has downplayed the estimated number of people infected in the United States and made a series of claims that a vaccine would be ready soon, despite statements from experts in his administration that it would be closer to 18 months before that happens.