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White House questions the coronavirus death toll and pushes to reopen churches.

As the number of United States deaths from the pandemic approaches 100,000, President Trump and members of his administration have been questioning the official coronavirus toll.

Even as most experts say that the numbers are probably an undercount, White House meetings have turned to questioning whether the toll is inflated by the inclusion of people who died while infected by the coronavirus, but of other conditions.

Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he accepted the current death toll but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which is now above 95,000. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said that America has taken “a very liberal approach” to what counts as a Covid-19 death.

Most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known, because early Covid-19 deaths were probably misclassified and people are dying in their homes and in nursing homes without being tested.

The president has escalated another dispute by demanding that states “allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” He threatened to “override” any governors who did not. Legal experts said he did not have such authority, but he could take states to court on grounds of religious freedom.

The rising number of U.S. coronavirus deaths comes as interviews show that Americans believe Washington has not been rising to meet the challenge, suggesting that the coronavirus has further eroded the public’s trust in government. It’s a stark difference from how nations like New Zealand, have handled the outbreak, shoring up the political fortunes of leaders such as Jacinda Ardern.

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