Faulty Covid death numbers explained

For many of us who have had ties to the scientific standards and procedures connected to recording fatalities there has been a serious sense of doubt about the numbers of Covid 19 deaths reported by the media, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The numbers have appeared to be somewhere between marginally overstated and grossly exaggerated.  Finally, these instincts have been supported by a peer-reviewed scientific paper.

On October 12 of last year, a 25-page paper in Science, Public Health Policy and The Law was released that explained, in detail, the foundational reason for the publicly announced fatality numbers and the mechanism by which they were derived.  This paper, authored by ten members of the scientific community is titled “Covid-19 Data Collection, Comorbidity & Federal Law: A Historical Perspective.”  At the heart of the issue is the CDC and its methods for collecting and reporting the data, a model which was changed radically in the face of the current crisis.

In 2003, the CDC authored and released guidance documents used by the forensic community titled Medical Examiners’ and Coroners’ Handbook on Death Registration and Fetal Death Reporting along with “Physicians’ Handbook on Medical Certification of Death.”   These have been the standard for the certification of fatalities, nationwide, for seventeen years.  However, in March of 2020 things changed.

The National Center for Health Statistics released Covid-19 Alert No. 2 which changed the way deaths with connections to Covid 19 were reported and tabulated.  The revealing line in the alert is in the last paragraph: “Covid-19 should be reported on the death certificates for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death.”  [emphasis added] This changed the parameters for the inclusion of deaths from Covid, raising the numbers substantially.

A table in the October study titled “Comparison of Total Covid-19 Fatalities Based Upon Different Reporting Guidelines” demonstrated that deaths through August 23rd of 2020 were higher by over 16 times as compared to the traditional definition.  If the reporting of these deaths followed the CDC guidebook from 2003, the number of Covid deaths would have been 9,684.  However, utilizing this new reporting and classification method that exclusively applied to Covid-19, the number of deaths is 161,392.

The paper delves into a variety of other topics, some legal and some statistical, that are all intrinsically functions of the change in death reporting parameters initiated by the March 2020 alert.  However, for so many of us who have had nagging doubts about the actual numbers, knowing that the calculus for recording these deaths had been replaced is reassuring.  Having spent a year looking at Covid fatality numbers and assuming that the true count was more likely half or a third of what was being reported, this new report is both satisfying and startling.  None of us would have guessed that the actual disparity would be that the number of Covid deaths, according to this study, is a bit less than 6% of the numbers reported by the media.

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