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Tom Brady claims on COVID-19 death toll, suicide deemed 'false' by PolitiFact

Jason Owens
·3-min read

On Tuesday, Tom Brady made a claim on Instagram that death by suicide has outpaced COVID-19 deaths in the last two months.

PolitiFact, a website dedicated to combating misinformation and run by the Poynter Institute, looked into Brady’s claim and concluded that the statement by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback was false.

“The point is, no matter which recent months you take, COVID-19 has killed far more people than suicide has per month historically,” PolitiFact concluded.

What did Tom Brady claim?

Brady made the claim on an Instagram story. Brady’s post was down after the PolitiFact story was published. Social media users captured screenshots of Brady’s claim.

“More suicide deaths than coronavirus deaths last two months,” Brady wrote. “So wash your hands and wear your masks but don’t forget to be nice to people and look after yourself.”

The statement was accompanied with a stamp reading “Truth” written in large font.

PolitiFact wrote that it reached out to Brady to ask him where he got his information and that he didn’t respond to their request.

Instagram stories are set to expire after they’re published. It’s not clear if Brady intentionally removed the post or if it simply expired as scheduled.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. The Saints won 34-23. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Tom Brady posted disputed data on Instagram downplaying the rate of COVID-19 deaths. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

Brady’s claim echoes President Trump rhetoric

It’s also not clear where Brady got his information. But his statement echoes those made by President Donald Trump and frequently touted by right-wing media outlets in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic that had claimed more than 226,000 American lives as of Tuesday.

Trump has argued against COVID-19 restrictions by claiming that economic shutdowns would lead to mass suicide.

“You’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,” Trump said in March during a Fox News town hall. “You’re going to lose people. You’re going to have suicides by the thousands.”

Suicide expert: Brady’s claim ‘impossible’

PolitiFact researched Brady’s claim by consulting the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data on suicide rates and speaking with president of the American Association of Suicidology, Dr. Jonathan Singer.

Singer told Politifact that suicide data lags, and that the conclusion Brady claimed in his Instagram post could not be reliably reached based on the limited information available. He also deemed the suicide rate that Brady claimed to be “impossible.”

“There’s no way this can be true,” Singer told PolitiFact. ... “For this to be right, you would need a rise in the suicide rate that is just impossible.”

The numbers

Citing the NCHS, PolitiFact concluded that in 2018 — the most recent year where reliable national suicide data can be gleaned — the United States averaged 4,026 deaths per month by suicide.

PolitiFact compared the suicide data with death tolls compiled by The COVID Tracking Project showing a monthly COVID-19 death toll of around four times that of past suicide death rates.

Per PolitiFact, regarding COVID-19 deaths:

“Going back to June — a month when deaths were falling — it was about 19,000. Now, it’s about 22,000 people per month.”

Other experts reached similar conclusions

PolitiFact’s conclusions align with those reached by medical experts consulted by the Washington Post at multiple points during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Suicide rates did not budge during the stay-at-home advisory period (March 23 until a phased reopening began in late May) in Massachusetts, which had one of the longest such periods of any state in the nation,” physician and Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Jeremy Samuel Faust wrote in the Post last week.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to help 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

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