Partly false claim: COVID-19 and H1N1 numbers compared; the public was “totally chill” during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010 while COVID-19 is causing “mass hysteria”

Cases and deaths

Iterations of a post make the claims that under President Donald Trump, there have been 1,329 U.S. cases of COVID-19 and 38 deaths, provoking “mass hysteria” while under President Barack Obama there were 60.8 million U.S. cases of H1N1 and 12,469 deaths, with a “totally chill” level of response (here ).

On March 11, 2020, Reuters reported there had so far been over 1,300 documented cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 38 deaths (here). It is likely that the COVID-19 numbers in this claim stem from this date.

As of March 16, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said “a total of 4,226 COVID-19 cases had been reported in the United States, with reports increasing to 500 or more cases per day beginning March 14” (here). On March 16, the CDC reported that 75 people infected with coronavirus had died in the U.S. (here). As of March 19, 2020, 10,442 people in the U.S. had been infected and 150 had died (here). This data represents over a seven-fold increase in confirmed cases between March 11 and March 19. It is worth noting that a nationwide shortage of test kits means it is very likely that cases are not being reported (here).

As reported by the CDC, it is true that there were an estimated 60.8 million cases and 12,469 deaths in the U.S. due to the H1N1 virus (here). The infection and death numbers for the 2009-2010 H1N1 (also known as swine flu) data was collected over the course of a year, while the first reported death caused by the novel coronavirus in the U.S. was recorded on February 29, 2020 and the first case was recorded by the CDC on January 21, 2020 (here ; here).

Experts project that the total number of U.S. coronavirus infections and deaths will continue to rise over the coming months. On March 11, 2020 Reuters reported that Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, said, “If all countries could get mobilized, it could be over by June” (here). Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s public health agency said on March 17, “our working assumption is that it will take about two years” for the virus to run its course (here).

“Totally chill” vs “mass hysteria”

It is not true that the nationwide panic level was “totally chill” during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010. As reported by Reuters during the early days of the swine flu outbreak, swine flu chatter spread swiftly through blogs and social network sites like Twitter and Facebook while U.S. cable news networks’ saturation coverage of the outbreak gave way to a major political story (here). An academic paper that analyzed the hysteria presented by the media at the time says “media attention was immense” (here).

Calculating mortality rates during a disease epidemic is difficult, in part because the numbers of deaths and patients constantly change. That’s why World Health Organization (WHO) officials - who said last week that 3.4% of the people worldwide confirmed as having been infected with the new coronavirus had died - were careful not to describe that as a mortality rate or death rate (here). In 2013, Reuters reported (here) that at least one in five people worldwide were infected with swine flu during the first year of the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic, according to an international research group at the time, but the death rate was just 0.02 percent.

Updated daily, the latest figures on COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. can be found on the CDC website here.


Partly false: While the U.S. H1N1 infection and death numbers are accurate, they reflect a year’s worth of data, as opposed to the numbers for COVID-19, for which the first death in the U.S. was reported less than a month ago. The media and public response to H1N1 in the U.S. cannot be accurately described as “totally chill” .

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work here.