August 31st: COVID-19 and Death Certificates, Part II
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Apparently my posts are just going to loop back on themselves in this pandemic, because the misinformation keeps trying to return. Social media is aflutter with the latest misleading headline that the CDC “quietly changed its numbers and only 6% of the...deaths recorded actually died from COVID-19.” This is a gross misinterpretation of the information.
First of all, there was no quiet change of numbers. There are multiple scientists (actual scientists) who have pointed this out, and a look at the website archives (pic in comments) proves that the language has not changed. All that happened was that a known QAnon conspiracy theorist found that language for the first time and used it to push her denial of COVID-19. Her Tweet has since been removed as the misinformation that it was.
So what does it mean that 94% of COVID-19 deaths had additional comorbidities? This has been long-used as the bastion from which denialists have defended their stance that COVID-19 is overblown. If you look at the data, the most common “other conditions” that are listed as causes of death in COVID-19 deaths are “pneumonia”, “cardiac arrest” and “respiratory arrest.” That’s because (and if you paid attention in COVID-19 AND DEATH CERTIFICATES Part 1 you’d already know this, see link in comments) when filling out a death certificate, you have to fill out the immediate cause(s) of death and what directly contributed to them.
Further down on the list you can add other chronic conditions that may have contributed but weren’t a direct cause. So yes, only 6% may have solely “COVID-19” listed as their cause of death, but COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) is the cause of the actual conditions that resulted in death.
Okay, so what about beyond that? Plenty of people have “comorbid conditions”, right? Those people were more likely to die, right? The most common condition people have listed is HYPERTENSION. High blood pressure. Somewhere between 33-45% of Americans have it, and many of them have it controlled as long as they take their meds. Similar with diabetes (not specific numbers, but conceptually). Yes, if you have these conditions, it can be more difficult to fight off infection.
But there are also people with these conditions that struggle through and survive COVID-19 (and we’ve talked already about how death isn’t the only bad outcome from COVID-19). And more importantly, if COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, these people with these conditions probably would not have died this year from their chronic, controlled conditions. To say that COVID-19 is overblown because people have other conditions is a bogus conclusion. To say that we should not take every precaution to prevent these infections from happening and spreading because some people are statistically more likely to die and “that’s just the way it is” is selfish and cruel. COVID-19 is real and it is deadly, and it is not going away, no matter how much we try to "ignore it out of existence" (credit to Laurel Bristow for phrasing). Do not let conspiracy theorists try to convince you otherwise.
One other thing - here’s what the CDC actually IS screwing up: the idea that people only need to be tested if they’re symptomatic is WRONG. First, despite what any politically-motivated statement says, asymptomatic spread is absolutely still real, it’s how most cases are happening, and any fraction of those cases can result in hospitalization and/or death. That’s not fearmongering, that’s reality in this pandemic. Second, narrowing the testing pool will increase positivity rates but not in a helpful way, not in a way we can keep track of. Third, we need MORE testing, faster testing, and more reliable testing to effectively get through this and end the pandemic. We need contact tracing and to be able to quarantine in pockets, if we’re not going to do it universally. We can’t do that if we limit testing. This is where the CDC is actually making a mistake.