‘The groupthink is pervasive. When you’re in a situation like this, they want you to be in a state of fear…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) As the country endures a severe economic shutdown to stop the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, many are beginning to wonder if virus death totals have been over-reported.
The controversy stems from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that allow for a death certificate to note cause of death to be COVID-19, even if the victim had underlying medical conditions that caused the death and the patient just happened to have the coronavirus also.
Scott Jensen, a Minnesota physician and Republican state senator, said the CDC guidelines would allow for an asymptomatic coronavirus patient who died after being hit by a bus to be listed as having died from the coronavirus.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said on Fox News’ Ingraham Angle last week.
The over-reporting is particularly concerning given that most deaths involve patients with pre-existing health conditions. Whether they pass away from the coronavirus or their previous health problems, the deaths can be officially attributed to the virus.
What’s more, states are attributing deaths to the coronavirus even for patients who have not been tested for it.
Jensen also said that inflating deaths statistics creates fear, which some believe is necessary to manage a public crisis.
“The groupthink is pervasive,” he said. “When you’re in a situation like this, they want you to be in a state of fear.”
Specifically, the CDC guidelines state: “In cases where a definite diagnosis of COVID–19 cannot be made, but it is suspected or likely (e.g., the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate as ‘probable’ or ‘presumed.’”
The guidelines further state that it is up to the discretion of those treating the patient—who may have their own reasons, tied to funding and resources, for wanting to inflate the totals. “In these instances, certifiers should use their best clinical judgment in determining if a COVID–19 infection was likely.”
Deborah Birx, the White House response coordinator for the Coronavirus Task Force, affirmed last week that the federal government is classifying deaths of infected patients as coronavirus deaths even when underlying health issues are involved.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem—some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death,” she said during a White House press briefing.
“The intent is … if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that,” she added.
Birx’s comments immediately boosted concerns about over-reporting.
“There are lots of people who are asymptomatic who may have other terrible diseases,” conservative journalist Brit Hume said on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight.
“If everybody is being automatically classified—if they’re found to have COVID-19, as a COVID-19 death—we’re going to get a very large number of deaths that way,” Hume said. “And we’re probably not going to have an accurate count of what the real death total is.,”
Health departments throughout Ohio have been including both confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state’s total infection numbers and patients who exhibit coronavirus symptoms but have not been tested, according to WHIO-TV.
“We think for Ohio citizens this is the best way to report this,” said Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican. “We are going to follow what the CDC said.”
The practice creates an obvious degree of uncertainty about the accuracy of reported cases in Ohio, as well as death totals that come from the same pool of cases.
But it’s perfectly acceptable per CDC guidelines.
“Ideally, testing for COVID–19 should be conducted, but it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty,” the guidelines state.
Over-reporting is already a cause of concern in that dying after a positive diagnosis is automatically considered a coronavirus fatality regardless of unrelated circumstances or pre-existing health conditions. But now that unconfirmed infections will be included, death numbers in hardest-hit areas like New York City are likely to soar.
A spokesperson for New York City’s Health Department said last week that the city would no longer stick to reporting infections confirmed by laboratory tests.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the NYC Health Department are working together to include into their reports deaths that may be linked to COVID but not lab confirmed that occur at home,” she said.
In its reporting guidelines, the CDC provides several examples for reporting a coronavirus death. One involves an 86-year-old stroke victim who developed a cough and fever after visiting a family member who had the virus.
The stroke victim dies in the scenario without being tested. But the cause of death is allowed to be attributed to the coronavirus, “given the patient’s symptoms and exposure to an infected individual.”
The policy casts a much wider net than necessary, critics say.
Reading the fine print also helps shed light on how infection and death numbers have been reported.
A recent tally of coronavirus deaths in New Jersey comes with a miniature italicized note: “Data includes confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported by the CDC, state health officials and other health agencies since Jan. 21.”