CDC report on coronavirus deaths leads to misinformation on social media

Posted at 11:42 AM, Sep 02, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A new report from the CDCis creating a lot of buzz on social media, with some people claiming the latest numbers show coronavirus isn't as deadly as initially thought.

The report breaks down what doctors list on patients' death certificates and found that "for 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned." It also says that an average of 2.6 additional conditions was listed on death certificates, including COVID-19.

Some bloggers took that to mean 94% of the deaths attributed to coronavirus had pre-existing conditions or were from something other than the pandemic.

But experts at UC San Diego Health say that's not the case.

Dr. Amy Bellinghausen, with the Pulmonary Critical Care Unit, says the numbers show how devastating the coronavirus is to the body.

"The reality is that this infection, coronavirus specifically, can be so overwhelming and cause so much inflammation in the body that it causes other organ systems to fail," says Dr. Bellinghausen.

"Often, that is ultimately the cause of somebody dying."

According to the CDC, 42% of COVID-19 death certificates also listed Influenza or pneumonia. Respiratory failure was listed on 33% of the death certificates. Hypertensive diabetes was listed on 22%, while diabetes was on 16%. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome was on 14% of the death certificates. Cardiac arrest was on 13%.

Bellinghausen says coronavirus directly caused most of those illnesses. And she adds the preexisting conditions like diabetes and hypertension were exacerbated by the virus, leading to the death.

The conditions are listed as "Comorbidities" on the death certificate, because doctors will write every illness on the certificate to explain what contributed to the death.

"But it's not accurate to say that it wasn't coronavirus that caused (each) death," says Dr. Bellinghausen. "It was coronavirus that led to a lot of complications...

"You start with a bad virus, and you end up with multiple organs that fail," she says. "That can be really confusing for people to understand."

Dr. Bellinghausen says an easier way to understand the disease's deadly effects is to look at theCDC's report on Excess Deaths.

The CDC keeps track of how many people should die in a given week under normal conditions. The U.S. has had 21 straight weeks where death reports have been higher than expected.

"In 2018-2019, we had a really bad, really long flu season. You can see the excess deaths go above the curve of what was expected," she says of the report. "Unfortunately, coronavirus is blowing that record out of the water in excess deaths this year."

Bottom line, Dr. Bellinghausen says to look at the original report before you believe any numbers you see in an article.

"I would just be cautious, especially as we're learning new things every week, it seems like a new report comes out every week, and have a little bit of skepticism about people telling you what each report means."