As the United States death toll from coronavirus infection hit 143 on Wednesday, with the total number of cases topping 8,000, according to New York Times figures, one Republican senator this week attempted to calm fears about the overall impact of the virus — but may have inadvertently stoked those fears instead.
Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, a key Donald Trump ally in the senate, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that acquiring coronavirus is “not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population. Johnson added that he believed the actual total could be “far less.”
“We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways,” Johnson said in the interview with Journal Sentinel Washington Bureau Chief Craig Gilbert.
“We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu.”
But if Johnson’s upper-end figure were correct, far more than “tens of thousands” of Americans would die from coronavirus infection. The U.S. population is currently about 330.4 million. But 3.4 percent of that population figure is equal to more than 11.2 million people who under Johnson’s estimate would die from contracting coronavirus.
By comparison, the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic — considered the deadliest disease outbreak in U.S. history, killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. That figure was less than one percent of the U.S. population in that year.
The 11.2 million figure is approximately twice the population of Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin, as well.
Johnson may have mistaken the estimated mortality rate for people who actually contract coronavirus, which is reported at 3.4 percent, for a percentage of the actual population that would supposedly die as a result of the infection. But a British study by Imperial College London, conducted by one of the world’s leading infectious disease specialists, also presents a grim picture of the possible death toll in the U.S.
According to a summary of the report by The Washington Post, the study led by Professor Neil Ferguson found that left unchecked, COVID-19 — the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus — would kill 2.2 million in the United States.
But with extreme “social distancing” measures lasting up to 18 months, that figure could be reduced into the thousands, the report said.
Johnson has long been known as a close Trump ally and defender in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment, even saying that he did not trust the United States’ own FBI or CIA.
In his interview with The Journal Sentinel, Johnson added that despite his seeming to minimize the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he did not believe that the social distancing measures currently underway in the U.S. were an example of “overreacting.”
“I am hopeful we… can, in the end, put this all in perspective and we can get the economy back on track,” he told the paper.