September 18, 2020
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‘Only six percent:’ social media trend misinterprets new CDC death data

By Sean Leonard
Staff Writer

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received backlash on social media over the weekend following a revision of its weekly Covid-19 mortality data on Aug. 26.

The CDC reportedly reduced the Covid-19 death toll from 153,504 to 9,210, citing that only 6 percent of the deceased were from Covid alone with no underlying disease, according to a recent CDC release regarding comorbidities.

Shortly after the release of the new data, according to the Associated Press, the phrase “Only six percent” began to trend on Twitter, with some users suggesting that the Covid-19 death toll was only a small percentage of what was previously reported.

According to the Associated Press, most misinterpretations gaining popularity on Twitter were posted by supporters of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory group that has recently received mainstream attention by The New York Times.

President Trump retweeted a post that inaccurately claimed “the CDC quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6 percent of all the 153,504 deaths recorded actually died from Covid.” Twitter promptly removed the tweet for violating platform rules, according to The Washington Post.

The CDC’s Revised totals suggest only six percent of those who died of COVID had no comorbidities. (Flickr)

In a Sept. 1 interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute and Infectious Disease, said that the death toll did not get reduced.

“It’s not 9,000 deaths from Covid-19, it’s 180-plus-thousand deaths,” Fauci said, as reported by CNBC.

According to CNBC, Fauci said that many people with underlying chronic conditions have died from the virus and that “someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of Covid didn’t die of Covid-19.”

Many of the conditions listed were directly related to Covid-19 and not necessarily pre-existing. These included respiratory failure, adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and heart failure. Those three conditions alone accounted for approximately 54 percent of the deaths, according to the CDC as of Aug. 26.

“Only 6 percent” of deaths being directly caused to Covid-19 is an unsurprising number, considering that approximately 37.6 percent of U.S. adults — 92.6 million people — are at a high risk of developing serious illness from Covid-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Out of that figure, about half are over the age of 65 and the rest have other medical conditions.

The CDC lists an underlying cause of death as “the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death,” said Dr. Robert Anderson, lead mortality statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics, in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

Anderson told the Associated Press that Covid-19 was listed as the underlying cause in 92 percent of reported deaths, and CDC guidance has consistently shown that those with underlying conditions display a higher risk of serious illness.

While most experts agree that many Covid-19 deaths are attributed to those with other serious conditions, those cases would not have resulted in death if they did not contract Covid-19.

“If it hadn’t been for the Covid virus infection, these people would be living today,” said Dr. William Schaffner to the Associated Press, who is an infectious-diseases expert and a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University. “So yes, although they have contributing underlying chronic health factors, it’s still the Covid virus that killed them.”

On the other hand, many experts believe the CDC’s death toll is an underestimate of the true U.S. tally.

According to an Aug. 13 New York Times article, at least 200,000 more people than usual died from early March to late July. These deaths, also known as “excess deaths”, suggest a far more grim toll of the virus than previously reported.

According to Vox, psychological research suggested that “faulty causal thinking” caused the surge of doubt regarding the Covid-19 death tolls. Further research by Vox supported the idea that people prefer simple explanations to complex problems, which could help answer questions and get a better understanding of the data being reported.

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