There's a 'Trump Death Clock' in N.Y.C. Counting People 'Unnecessarily Lost' to the Coronavirus

The clock was designed to "let the numbers speak for themselves," its creator says

Trump Death Clock
The "Trump Death Clock" displayed in Times Square in New York City. Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty

A grim reminder hangs in New York City's Times Square, which has been mostly empty for weeks.

The "Trump Death Clock" is designed to count the toll — increasing all the time — of people killed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the clock's creator, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, says it's not just tribute: The digital clock is Jarecki's critique of what happened because of President Donald Trump's early "inaction" to slow the spread of the illness.

In a Washington Post op-ed this month, Jarecki wrote harshly of what he described as Trump's lethally fumbled response — echoing larger criticisms of the federal government.

Trump, whose tone about the virus became sharply more serious starting in March, has defended his record in different ways: by blaming China, where the virus first emerged late last year; by arguing with various governors over state-level strategy; and by describing the pandemic as an unforeseeable — and unpreparable — calamity.

He has also touted his decision to restrict travel from China and Europe as life-saving and has said he is not receiving enough credit for more recently increasing the ventilator supply and testing capacity.

Jarecki, as do many other detractors, takes a different view given the casualties of the virus.

"Reports show that as early as January, the president was advised by both his own experts and the intelligence services of the need for urgent mitigation measures against the spread of the virus," Jarecki, an Emmy- and Peabody-winning director, wrote in the Post. "Instead, he engaged in petty political feuds and Pollyannaish predictions minimizing its significance."

The result, Jarecki wrote, was a majority of the coronavirus deaths in the U.S. — at least 51,000 — that he and some epidemiologists argue were avoidable if the federal government had acted sooner.

"An estimated 90 percent of the cumulative deaths in the United States from COVID-19, at least from the first wave of the epidemic, might have been prevented by putting social distancing policies into effect two weeks earlier, on March 2, when there were only 11 deaths in the entire country," epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell wrote in a New York Times op-ed in mid-April. "The effect would have been substantial had the policies been imposed even one week earlier, on March 9, resulting in approximately a 60 percent reduction in deaths."

Jarecki cites the op-ed's "60 percent" estimation as the source for his clock, which looms stark amid the advertisements in Times Square after going live on May 8.

The clock's website adds numbers to the total as new deaths are reported via the COVID Tracking Project.

In all, according to a Times tracker of available data, the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. was at more than 85,000 as of Friday while the number of confirmed cases around the country surpassed 1.4 million this week.

There have been more than 4.3 million cases worldwide, according to the Times.

"This suffering cannot be forgotten," Jarecki wrote in his op-ed in the Post. "As of today, tens of thousands of Americans have lost their lives as a consequence of the administration’s failure to act sooner, so it’s no wonder the president excoriates reporters who ask him why he waited so long to implement the guidelines."

Jarecki said the "Trump Death Clock" was designed to "let the numbers speak for themselves."

The pandemic, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease, has dramatically altered daily life in America and elsewhere, with numerous businesses, schools and events on hold as people have avoided public to slow the virus' spread. More than 36 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment.

Trump Death Clock
The "Trump Death Clock" on display in New York City's Time Square. Dia Dipasupil/Getty
Eugene Jarecki
Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, the creator of the "Trump Death Clock.". Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

On Thursday, Trump spoke to a crowd at medical supply facility an Allentown, Pennsylvania, and called on the state's Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, to reopen faster while the president continued to downplay health concerns and claimed coronavirus testing may be "overrated."

In the crowd, according to reporters in attendance, supporters held signs that read "Save us from the big bad Wolf” and “THE MEDIA IS THE VIRUS," referencing the president's repeated attacks on news outlets he deems too critical of his administration.

One woman in her 20s held up another sign: “85k Dead Equals Epic Failure”

Jarecki said his "death clock" was planting a "symbolic flag in the numbers."

The filmmaker said the clock, which is designed after the long-running "National Debt Clock" in Times Square, was a reminder of the mounting cost of what he and other critics see as Trump's mistakes.

"This pandemic is ongoing, and the lives already unnecessarily lost demand we seek more responsible crisis leadership," Jarecki wrote in the Post. "Just as the names of fallen soldiers are etched on memorials to remind us of the cost of war, quantifying the lives lost to the president’s delayed coronavirus response would serve a vital public function."

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