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COVID19 Deaths and the recent 6% debacle

There have been rumors, and tweets, and screenshots, and who knows what else stating that only 6% of CDC’s COVID19 death count is due to COVID19. I feel like this is a ridiculous post, particularly because I feel like a broken record, but here we go…

What happened? CDC updated its regular statistics page stating: “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.” For the other 94% of people that died of COVID19, “individuals had an average of 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death”.

What does this change? NOTHING. 182,885 people have still died from COVID19 in the US. COVID19 is still the third leading cause of death in the US.

What does the science say?

1. The CDC (and basically every scientist across the world) has consistently stated that individuals with underlying health conditions are more likely to die from COVID19. This is probably one of the first facts that we DID know. I don’t know why we are surprised about this now…

2. Long-term conditions (like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease) are “chronic” because they last for a long time. Most are, in fact, manageable thanks to modern science. Someone with diabetes (that wasn’t “supposed” to die this year) can manage to get infected with COVID19 and die quickly because their immune systems get overwhelmed.

3. The health of our nation has been terrible, even before the pandemic. 60% of adults have a chronic condition. Among those aged 65 and over, 80% have multiple chronic conditions. Minorities and low-income populations have more chronic conditions too. So, if you take a random sample of people who die, the majority will have at least one chronic condition. So we shouldn’t be surprised about this 6% being low.

4. There are many lines on a death certificate. This includes the “immediate cause of death”, “sequentially conditions leading to the cause of death”, and “other significant conditions contributing to death”. Which ties to #3…it would be odd if a chronic condition WASN’T listed on a death certificate in the US given the health of our nation overall and given COVID19 touches every organ system. Death certificate instructions are below if you’re curious how this data is collected.

5. If there is nothing else, just look at an excess death graph for 2020 (see Figure). We are WAY above our deaths this year compared to past years. Period. This doesn’t just randomly coincide with a pandemic.

In epidemiology (and science), it’s very weird for us to beat a dead horse. We typically accept the conclusions of a room full of scientists with decades of experience until another room of scientists with decades of experience proves them wrong. We don’t change our mind from a tweet that is taken out of context (no matter who it’s from). The public should follow suit. I guess I should just be happy that everyone (and I mean everyone) now pays attention to public health?

Love, YLE

CDC link to deaths causing the commotion: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htmChronic conditions and of COVID19 death: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-increased-risk.html ; Chronic conditions, overall, in the US: http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/TL221_final.pdf; https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htmDeath certificate instructions: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/blue_form.pdf Excess Deaths posts: https://yourlocalepidemiologist.com/excess-deaths/; COVID19 as a leading cause of death: https://yourlocalepidemiologist.com/leading-causes-of-death/ Image from: Weinberger lab, updated on August 14, 2020

2 replies on “COVID19 Deaths and the recent 6% debacle”

I don’t believe anyone is claiming ONLY 6% of the deaths reported as COVID is actually COVID. That said, can you actually report the number of excess deaths than showing a graph which is not quite intuitive? Is it saying that in each of the months we had anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 excess deaths? If so, the total is less than 80,000.

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