WASHINGTON — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, doctors have said that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of complications and death due to the virus. So it’s not necessarily surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that 94% of the people who have died from coronavirus in the U.S. had other health conditions which contributed to their death in addition to COVID-19.
Still, that statistic has been misinterpreted as stating that only 6% of COVID-19 deaths were caused by the virus.
The data, which is based on information listed on death certificates, shows that 94% of all patients who died from COVID-19 in the U.S. this year also had other "health conditions and contributing causes." Or putting it another way, the CDC website states, "For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned."
Most of the misleading claims on social media have focused on that 6% line.
Twitter took down one tweet on Sunday, which President Donald Trump had retweeted earlier in the day, that reportedly claimed the CDC had "quietly" updated its numbers "to admit that only 6%" of people listed as coronavirus deaths "actually died from Covid."
The tweet was made by an account named Mel Q. The Q stands for QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory, according to Forbes. Even though the tweet was removed, throughout Sunday, "only 6%" was trending on the social media platform. Others were tweeting similar false information.
But the CDC didn't "admit" that and it wasn't done "quietly."
So, what does the CDC's data show and where does the info come from?
The government data is based on death certificates, which the CDC claims to be the most reliable source of data and contains info that may not be available anywhere else. The documents usually contain information including comorbidity conditions, race and ethnicity and place of death.
The CDC's statistics page is also updated regularly and has shown since early July that "COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned" for 6% of the deaths it had information on. Before that, the page listed the number at 7%.
What it essentially means is that 94% of the people who have died from coronavirus in the US had other health conditions, which contributed to their death in addition to COVID-19.
This echoes information public health doctors have shared since the pandemic began that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of complications and death due to the coronavirus.
The data just confirms what the CDC has said when the virus was just beginning to spread across the country. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. However, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
In the U.S., more than 183,000 people have died from the coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The CDC said on average there were 2.6 additional conditions per death. The agency listed the top conditions contributing to deaths involving COVID-19:
- Influenza and pneumonia (68,004 deaths)
- Respiratory failure (54,803 deaths)
- Hypertensive disease (35,272 deaths)
- Diabetes (25,036 deaths)
- Vascular and unspecified dementia (18,497 deaths)
- Cardiac Arrest (20,210 deaths)
- Renal failure (13,693 deaths)
- Heart failure (10,562 deaths)
- Other medical conditions (77,990 deaths)
However, death certificates take time to be completed, so the data provided might not be completely accurate. The CDC said the delay in data can range from one week to eight weeks or more.
The agency adds that provisional data is not yet complete, provisional counts are not final and are subject to change and that death counts should not be compared across states.