As an epidemiologist, watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold has been a bit surreal. Terms like basic reproduction number, or R0, have gone from fairly finicky things only spoken about in the musty hallways of universities to common parlance across the globe. A paper on antibody testing, instead of being largely ignored by people with better things to do, hits the news worldwide and makes its entire author team famous. And amid all this noise, there is a constant, exhausting flow of nonsense and outright disinformation.
It feels, to a great extent, as if the world has gone mad.
The latest front in this seemingly endless war on claptrap is something that has been bouncing around for a long time: that COVID-19 deaths are not actually COVID-19 deaths. The basic idea is that a lot of people who supposedly die from COVID-19 actually had other conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and so you can’t blame the coronavirus when it’s really the underlying issues that caused them to die.
Now, to anyone who has studied how deaths are recorded and what we mean when we say a “COVID-19 death”, this is pretty ludicrous. Countries go to great lengths to properly record deaths, because death information is vital not only to funding decisions but also things like insurance, court cases, and the like.
Knowing this, it came as quite a surprise that apparently the CDC has come out with a huge announcement — only 6% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were caused by the virus itself!
This would be big news if true. If only 6% of people who died of COVID-19 actually died from the infection, with the others dying from other things while they had coronavirus, it would reduce the death toll of the dread disease substantially. Sadly, this is complete and utter…