TORONTO -- U.S. President Donald Trump mischaracterized the country’s COVID-19 death rate during a recent interview on Axios on HBO, underplaying the high rate of deaths in proportion to the U.S. population by comparing it to the number of confirmed cases in the country.

During the interview, which aired Monday, Trump quickly disputed reporter Jonathan Swan’s statement that the U.S. had seen a recent surge in COVID-19 related deaths, recording more than 1,000 deaths per day at the end of July when the interview was filmed.

“The United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world, we’re lower than Europe,” Trump said in response, referring to several charts.

When asked to clarify, the president noted that he was referring to the U.S. death rate in proportion to the number of confirmed cases in the country, instead of the death rate in proportion to the population.

“I’m talking about death as a proportion of population, that’s where the U.S. is really bad,” Swan said after looking over Trump’s charts.

“You can’t do that,” Trump pressed. “You have to go by the cases. What it says is… where there’s a case, the people that live from those cases.”


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Population (CDC) defines “mortality rate” for any illness as “a measure of the frequency of occurrence of death in a defined population” during a specific time period.

However, the “case-fatality rate” is defined as “a proportion of persons with a particular condition (cases) who die from that condition” and is used to measure the severity of the condition.

As the CDC notes, the case-fatality rate is a proportion, “not a true rate.”

In other words, the mortality rate shows how common it is for someone to die from COVID-19 in the U.S., whereas the case-fatality rate shows how likely it is for someone to die from COVID-19 once they’ve been infected.


According to data from Johns Hopkins University, when it comes to countries that have at least 100,000 cases of COVID-19, the U.S. has the sixth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, ranking behind Chile, Italy, Spain, Peru and the United Kingdom.

As of Tuesday, the country’s case-fatality rate, measured by the number of deaths per 100 cases in countries with at least 100,00 cases, ranked fourteenth. The U.K., Italy, France, Mexico and Spain made up the top five countries with the highest case-fatality rates.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed infections in the U.S. topped 4.7 million, with new cases running at over 60,000 a day. Although those figures are down from a peak of well over 70,000 new cases per day in the second half of July, cases are rising in 26 states and deaths are increasing in 35 states.

On average, the number of COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. over the past two weeks has gone from about 780 to 1,056, according to an Associated Press analysis.

During the Axios interview, Trump repeated his assertion that the U.S. has the highest number of cases because it tests more people than other countries.

Although rising case numbers can be partially explained by the wider availability of testing, with mild, previously undetected cases being registered, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in the U.S.

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously disputed claims that coronavirus cases were climbing globally as a result of more countries testing, noting hospital admissions and death tolls must also be taken into consideration when looking at the impact of the virus.

Graphics by's Mahima Singh