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PoliZette

Trump Challenges His Critics on Puerto Rico Death Stats, They Push Back Hard

Social media firestorm ensues after president claims 'bad politics' caused inflated number of Hurricane Maria casualties

Several Thursday morning tweets from President Donald Trump challenging death count estimates in Puerto Rico attributed to Hurricane Maria last year have set off a social media firestorm — which continues to this moment.

The president denied that 3,000 people perished in the storms that recently devastated the tiny island.

He was referencing the events in Puerto Rico of last September and beyond.

Researchers at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C., concluded that 2,975 “excess deaths” were linked to Hurricane Maria in a report published just two weeks ago.

The independent report published by the school’s Milken Institute of Public Health tallied casualties that occurred due to Hurricane Maria between September 2017 and February 2018.

The study was commissioned by the Puerto Rican government.

Per Trump’s tweet, the number of deaths when he left the island following the storm was between six and 18.

Further, he indicated in Thursday’s tweets that the toll did not rise significantly until “a long time later.”

GWU’s numbers place that initial toll a bit higher than Trump did, at 64 — noting that the number was reported by the government of Puerto Rico in September and soon after.

“The team found that lack of communication, well-established guidelines and training for physicians on how to certify deaths in disasters resulted in a limited number of deaths’ being identified as hurricane-related,” according to the study.

Trump attributed what he claims are inflated death toll numbers to “Democrats,” who, he says, are trying to “make me look as bad as possible.”

He said that people were included in the death toll accounting who had died “for any reason, like old age, just to add them to the list.”

He added that the alleged inflation was “bad politics,” and said he loved the unincorporated U.S. territory located in the Caribbean Sea.

Harvard researchers’ estimates of Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico were even higher than GWU’s, at 4,645, as CBS reported earlier this summer.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) noted that the bulk of the deaths post-Maria were due to interruptions in medical care, power outages, and washed-out roads.

NEJM’s estimates, based on mortality rates during the same period a year prior, yielded a total of 4,625 excess deaths between Sept. 20, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) noted that the bulk of the deaths post-Maria were due to interruptions in medical care, power outages, and washed-out roads.

President Trump’s tweets, clearly, are in line with neither GWU’s, Harvard’s, nor NEJM’s death toll estimates.

Social media comments on the matter were fast and furious.

They included rebukes not only from Trump’s political rivals but from political friendlies as well.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.