Fact check: US COVID-19 deaths from Dec. 1-5 rival the toll from the Pearl Harbor attack

Ella Lee

The claim: More Americans died from COVID-19 in each of the first five days of December than in the Pearl Harbor attack

As Americans continue to die from COVID-19, some have sought to compare its impact to deadly attacks on U.S. soil. 

An Instagram post by Now This News, a progressive-leaning news outlet, narrows in on Pearl Harbor, noting that the surprise strike on a U.S. naval base in 1941 killed over 2,400 service members and civilians. A U.S. census report confirms that 2,403 people were killed in the attack. 

The caption goes on to report that the United States saw more than 2,400 coronavirus deaths each of the first five days of December, citing the COVID Tracking Project as its source. 

"Whereas the day after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt said December 7 ‘is a date which will live in infamy,’ Pres. Trump won’t speak publicly about the pandemic that is now killing thousands of Americans daily," Now This News wrote in the post's caption. 

Now This News did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment. 

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COVID Tracking Project numbers make claim true, other sources vary

It's true that more Americans died each of the first five days of last week than in the Pearl Harbor attack based on the source Now This News cites. The COVID Tracking Project, a well-respected volunteer organization launched by  The Atlantic and cited by Now This News, determined that the number of deaths for the first five days of the month were as follows:

  • Dec. 1 - 2,473
  • Dec. 2 - 2,733
  • Dec 3 - 2,706
  • Dec. 4 - 2,563
  • Dec. 5 - 2,461

But the toll for Dec. 5 varies in other sources. The New York Times generally found higher death counts than the COVID Tracking Project for the first four days of the month, but its tally of Dec. 5 deaths is lower than the number of casualties at Pearl Harbor. 

The New York Times' count of coronavirus deaths between Dec. 1-5:

  • Dec. 1 - 2,610
  • Dec. 2 - 2, 885
  • Dec. 3 - 2,857
  • Dec. 4 - 2,637
  • Dec. 5 - 2,190

Johns Hopkins University's COVID tracker shows the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. as being closer to The New York Times' estimates. Its tally of Dec. 5 coronavirus deaths also falls short of Pearl Harbor's casualty count.

Johns Hopkins' count of coronavirus deaths between Dec. 1-5:

  • Dec. 1 - 2,597
  • Dec. 2 - 2,804
  • Dec. 3 - 2,879
  • Dec. 4 - 2,607
  • Dec. 5 - 2,254

The discrepancies between the different data sources highlight the challenges in accurately tracking the number of deaths from the coronavirus. Experts cite the lack of a coordinated response, unfamiliarity with the virus and the discussions surrounding it being clouded by conspiracy theories and political motivations as reasons it's hard to keep track. 

Despite both The New York Times' and Johns Hopkins' trackers showing Dec. 5 as having fewer deaths than Pearl Harbor, the average number of deaths per day for the first five days of December, is well above the number of casualties seen back in 1941 on all three trackers.  

Our rating: True

We rate the claim that more Americans died from COVID-19 in each of the first five days of December than in the Pearl Harbor attack as TRUE, as the source cited in the post affirms the claim. Other sources show a lower death toll on Dec. 5 but higher tolls on Dec. 1-4, highlighting the difficulty to accurately track COVID-19 deaths.

Our fact-check sources: 

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