Donald Trump has lashed out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claiming the health agency has exaggerated the pandemic in the US by using a broad definition of what constitutes a Covid-19 case or death.

“The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov’s ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low. ‘When in doubt, call it Covid.” Fake News!’” Trump tweeted on Sunday. 

The outburst comes as the United States surpasses 20 million Covid-19 cases that have been linked to 350,000 deaths since the start of the health crisis. 

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The US president is not wrong in pointing out that other countries count coronavirus cases differently, however. Starting in April, the CDC began including “probable” cases and deaths in its tallies, although some states choose not to report such figures. A “probable” case or death means that health workers can label someone as Covid-19 positive even if they haven’t been tested, as long as the patient’s symptoms meet the “clinical criteria” of the virus. 

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Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Covid-19 taskforce who is stepping down from her post once Trump leaves office, acknowledged back in April that “in this country we’ve taken a very liberal approach to [Covid-19] mortality.” She noted that, unlike other nations, “if someone dies with Covid-19 we are counting that as a Covid-19 death,” even if it’s unclear whether the virus was the cause of the fatality. 

This policy is wildly different from how China tabulates coronavirus cases, for example. China does not count asymptomatic carriers of the virus in its tally of confirmed cases, and as a result its official number of cases are far lower than what might be expected.

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