We’ve made it, with the Chiefs playing the Texans on Thursday this will be the last Science Saturday of the year. I was hoping to avoid talking about Covid again, but this popped up and took a life of it’s own, so it’s worthwhile to describe exactly what people are getting wrong. It has different forms depending on where you see it, but in general it looks like this.
There’s actually two problems here. One is the implication that only 6% of Covid deaths are actually from Covid, and that the other 94% were caused by something else and those people just happened to have Covid, and therefore Covid isn’t actually very dangerous. The problem with this is that often there is legitimately more than one cause of death, and while the person could have survived with just one disease, it was a combination of those two that killed them.
For example, one of the comorbidities listed on the CDC website is diabetes, with over 27,000 deaths with both diabetes and Covid. In a normal year roughly 80,000 people in the US die of diabetes, so unless half the people with diabetes in the US have gotten Covid this pandemic is causing diabetics to die at a far higher rate than they normally would in a 6-month period. Of those 27,000 it’s virtually certain that most would have been able to continue living with their diabetes had they not also gotten Covid.
Ok so that isn’t surprising, we all already knew that people with pre-existing conditions were at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms, it’s the second implication that really surprised people, that since 94% of Covid deaths had other health issues, if you’re a healthy person you have virtually no risk of dying of Covid. While it’s true your risk is much lower, that’s not actually what the CDC was saying here, and isn’t really accurate. This becomes clearer when you look at that Table 3 that’s in those screenshots, but people never seem to show.
Notice anything? While this isn’t the entire table, it’s immediately obvious that these comorbidities are actually them simply listing Covid symptoms along with Covid as the cause of death. The 72,000 people who died of Covid and “influenza and pneumonia” had their influenza and pneumonia caused by Covid. Same with “respiratory failure”. It’s not like these people were dying of respiratory failure and then just happened to catch Covid, it was the Covid that caused respiratory failure as a symptom.
It would be like if somebody was in a fatal car accident, and they listed their cause of death as internal bleeding and head trauma. You wouldn’t then conclude that the car accident didn’t kill them because they had these other things listed, you’d know that those things were caused by the car accident.
But to make the actual death toll crystal clear the simplest way to look at it is excess deaths from all causes. If Covid wasn’t that serious, then we would see a normal amount of deaths since February, or at least the number above average would be well below the 190,000 official death toll. But instead counting excess deaths shows that at best the official death count is very accurate, and at worst it’s under counting the number of Covid deaths.
What this misunderstanding (and outright deceit by some) shows, beyond confirming how serious this disease is, is the importance of double-checking claims like this. Just because you see a picture on the internet doesn’t mean that it’s telling you the whole story.