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About That Claim That 94% Of COVID Deaths Had Underlying Health Problems…

"It's very clear that this doesn’t mean that these deaths aren’t Coronavirus deaths."

The Centers for Disease Control released a new report last week that showed that 96 percent of people who died from Coronavirus had comorbidities, pre-existing health conditions that contributed to the deaths. The report was seized upon by many pandemic skeptics to claim that Coronavirus is not as serious as previously believed. In reality, the CDC report confirms what we’ve known all along about COVID-19.

Specifically, the CDC data showed that 94 percent of fatalities attributed to the Coronavirus were also suffering from other diseases such as heart problems, respiratory issues, or sepsis. The implication, as one Twitter user associated with QAnon claimed, was that the CDC had “quietly updated the COVID number to admit that only 6%” of those listed in the U.S. coronavirus death toll “actually died from COVID” and that “the other 94% had 2-3 other serious illnesses.” This was a misinterpretation of the data and the tweet has been removed.

Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz attacks the misconception on his blog, pointing out that the data shows that it’s “very clear that this doesn’t mean that these deaths aren’t Coronavirus deaths.”

“In the U.S., deaths are recorded using standardized death certificates,” Meyerowitz-Katz explains. “On these certificates, completed by medical certifiers, there are several spaces to fill in — one for the immediate cause of death, and then several lines for the underlying causes of that.”

“One way of looking at the precise number is to ask how many COVID-19 deaths had coronavirus as the UNDERLYING [emphasis his] cause,” he continues. “The CDC has actually estimated this, and puts it at >95 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, meaning that the vast majority of deaths recorded as caused by Coronavirus in the U.S. were caused by COVID-19.”

In other words, Coronavirus was the primary cause in more than 95 percent of COVID deaths. If a person has an existing illness, such as heart disease, and has lived with that malady for years but dies shortly after contracting COVID-19, it can be reasonably assumed that COVID-19, not heart disease, was the cause of death.

In contrast to skeptical claims, the CDC data confirms early observations that COVID-19 is most dangerous to specific groups of high-risk individuals. Way back in February, in my first article about Coronavirus, I noted that Chinese data showed that, “About two-thirds of the Coronavirus deaths are male and more than 80 percent were over 60-years-old. In about 75 percent of the fatal cases, there was another underlying illness such as cardiovascular disease.” The CDC report is a confirmation of those initial findings that older people and those with health problems are more susceptible to COVID-19.

The rub is that a lot of Americans have health problems and, as our society has grayed in recent decades, a lot of us are also old enough to be high-risk. Back in July, NBC News reported on another study that found that as many as 40 percent of Americans had underlying health conditions that put them at risk of “severe complications of COVID-19.”

Aside from obvious health problems like heart, lung, and kidney diseases and suppressed immune systems, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed that risk factors observed in New York last spring included hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure and obesity were the most common comorbidities found by the study, being present in 57 and 42 percent of observed patients respectively. These conditions affect a large share of Americans.

Since COVID-19 is invariably compared with the flu, I’ll also point out that comorbidities are usually found in flu deaths as well. A 2019 study noted, “Most [influenza] infections are self-limited, requiring no healthcare visits, but a proportion of cases present severe complications, mainly in people with underlying health conditions and in young children and the elderly.” Pneumonia is a frequent comorbidity for the flu.

The flipside to the CDC data is that about six percent of Coronavirus deaths are in healthy individuals with no pre-existing conditions. Such deaths are unheard of when it comes to the flu.

Other data also undermines the claim that the Coronavirus pandemic is blown out of proportion. A raw number comparison between the effect of COVID-19 and seasonal flu should be enough to refute claims by pandemic deniers. Flu season deaths, which are calculated statistically rather than by positive test results, vary with different strains but average between 33,000 and 51,000 people. Coronavirus is responsible for about 183,000 deaths in the US after only about nine months and this despite extreme countermeasures to slow the spread of the virus. There is simply no comparison between the two.

Another way of confirming the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is by looking at excess deaths. When overall death rates are compared between 2020 and past years, it is apparent that more people are dying in 2020. A study from August found that excess deaths from the spring outbreak in New York matched those of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, one of the deadliest outbreaks in US history.

It should be apparent to anyone who is paying attention that the Coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything that most of us have seen before. Nearly 200,000 dead Americans underscore the seriousness of the situation and attempts to explain away the death toll by attacking the statistics amount to conspiracy theories or wishful thinking.

If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

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