How Many COVID Deaths Are There, Really?

Currently the Centers for Disease Control says there have been 121,809 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Most people, seeing that figure or reading newspaper headlines about Wuhan virus deaths, assume that means that in 121,809 cases, COVID-19 has been the cause of death. But that isn’t true at all.

This Issues & Insights editorial does a good job of bringing together some of the relevant data. But let’s start with something they didn’t mention: this acknowledgement by the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health:

I just want to be clear in terms of the definition of people dying of COVID. So, the case definition is very simplistic. It means that at the time of death it was a COVID-positive diagnosis. So that means if you were in hospice and had already been given, you know, a few weeks to live and then you were also found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death. It means that if, technically, even if you died of a clear alternate cause but you had COVID at the same time it’s still listed as a COVID death. So, everyone that’s listed as a COVID death doesn’t mean that that was the cause of the death, but they had COVID at the time of death.

That certainly is clarifying. We also know that some doctors have complained about being pressured to list COVID-19 as a cause of death, perhaps because the CARES Act provides a 20% Medicare bonus for COVID patients. And most recorded COVID-19 fatalities are elderly people with one or more co-morbidities.

The I & I editorial has more. Links are omitted:

[T]he deaths now attributed to COVID-19 might be grossly exaggerated. The evidence is substantial, and has been obvious for weeks. …

Dr. Deborah Birx, the respected physician who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus team, reportedly argued back in May at a closed Centers for Disease Control meeting that the agency’s death estimates were 25% too high, according to a Washington Post report.

Anecdotal evidence at the state level suggests this is true. In fact, estimates may be off by more than 25%.

A review of Minnesota deaths through late May, for instance, found that of 741 registered COVID-19 deaths, fewer than 41% listed it as a “primary cause.” …

How could this happen?

In most U.S. jurisdictions, unlike many other countries, if someone dies with COVID-19, that becomes the cause of death for official purposes. That’s true even if it didn’t technically “cause” the person’s death.
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In California, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond investigated 194 COVID-19 deaths through mid-May and found that only six could be clearly claimed as caused by COVID-19. “We’ve unfortunately had six pure, solely coronavirus deaths — six out of 3.3 million people,” said Desmond.

Washington state reported that at least five of its then 828 COVID-19 deaths were actually due to gunshot wounds. Pennsylvania had to remove “hundreds of deaths” from its tally for misreporting the actual causes.

Same thing in Colorado, where a man found dead in a park with a 0.55% alcohol blood level was declared a COVID-19 victim.

The CDC has a huge institutional interest in maximizing the COVID problem, but it admits that the fatality numbers are misleading:

The Centers for Disease Control admits as much in its June 24 update of the data:

“For 7% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”

You read that right: not 97%, 7%.

“For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.5 additional conditions or causes per death.”

Why is this important? Because in all likelihood, the actual Wuhan fatality rate is not much different from a relatively virulent seasonal flu. Every year, the seasonal flu bug kills tens of thousands of Americans. Just two years ago, the CDC says it killed 62,000–and that was without a Medicare spiff or other pressures to build up the numbers. The reality is, I think, that in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, we devastated our economy–which means that we devastated tens or hundreds of millions of lives–needlessly.

So what do we do next year, or the year after? It is a virtual certainty that during next year’s flu season, absent a comprehensive shutdown, and perhaps with a shutdown, tens of thousands of Americans will die, and have their deaths attributed to that virus. COVID-19 presumably will still be active and will add to the total. There are powerful forces in our society that yearn to shut down economic activity and thereby increase poverty, unemployment and dependence on government. Those forces likely control the Democratic Party, which could well be in charge of the Executive Branch in January.

Without any track record of sensible risk assessment, what will stand in the way of another shutdown next Winter? Or the year after that? The case for hysteria will be more or less as strong as it was this year.

And it could well be stronger. When the dust settles, the Wuhan flu will in all likelihood have a fatality rate of less than 0.2%. This compares with an average seasonal flu rate of around 0.1%. Actually, the world has gotten off lucky: the virus that the Chinese Communist Party unleashed on the rest of us was a mild one. The next pandemic could easily involve a virus that is ten times as lethal, or even, possibly, 100 times as lethal. What will we do then? Our crazed reaction to COVID-19 does not inspire confidence that we would be able to deal rationally with a truly lethal virus.

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