Health

Here’s what Dr. Fauci has to say about the CDC’s dubious COVID-19 death toll

The country’s leading pandemic expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has a message for everyone who thinks that the coronavirus death toll is much lower than the CDC has previously reported. “Let there not be any confusion. It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths. The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of [deaths] had nothing else but COVID,” Fauci told ABC.

The 9,000 figure surfaced after conspiracy theories claimed that the CDC had updated the country’s coronavirus death toll to show that only six percent of people had died of COVID-19. What the CDC has indicated is that 94 percent of people who died listed both COVID-19 and another underlying condition as the cause of death — and those underlying condition included diabetes, hypertension, pneumonia, or respiratory failure. Fauci clarified that listing the underlying condition alongside COVID “does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19; they did,” he said.

The global death toll from COVID-19 could be higher

ABC quotes unnamed health experts who say that if anything, the US coronavirus death toll, and the global death toll as a whole, from COVID-19 could be much higher. In April, The Financial Times compared number of deaths from all causes between the months of March and April from 2015 to 2019 in 14 countries, against the death toll reported during the same months in 2020. In all the countries analyzed, the overall death toll was significantly higher than the official reported death toll from the coronavirus. Using this metric, the FT found that the Italian city of Bergamo registered a 464 percent increase in deaths above normal levels, while New York saw a 200 percent increase in deaths.

“The only unbiased comparison you can make between different countries is by looking at all cause mortality … There are so many questions about the rise we’ve seen in death that have not got Covid on the death certificate, yet you feel are inevitably linked in some way to this epidemic,” says David Spiegelhalter, Cambridge University professor of the public understanding of risk. 

Another expert suggests that even calculating for excess mortality would still give us a conservative death toll, because lockdowns would suggest there’d be fewer deaths from incidents like traffic accidents and workplace injuries.

Dr. Fauci clarified the confusing CDC testing guidelines

Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t just debunk the coronavirus death toll, he clarified a confusing — and controversial — change to testing guidelines announced by the CDC, which said asymptomatic people didn’t need to get tested, even if they came in contact with someone infected by the coronavirus. “That did create some confusion [but] the confusion has been straightened out now. The way that sentence was said, it gave the impression that they’re not concerned about community spread and that people who are asymptomatic should not be tested … There’s no doubt that there is asymptomatic infection and asymptomatic people can transmit, and you can and should test asymptomatic people,” Fauci said. “What the guideline was trying to do was to try to make the point that not everyone who wants to be tested should be tested, only if you need to be tested. Understandably that was confusing” (via Boston Globe).

Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage further explained that testing may not be necessary if someone had no symptoms, didn’t come in contact with someone sick of COVID, and if community spread is low, but that “we have been trying really hard to help people understand that anybody can be infected. You don’t have to have obvious symptoms” (via USA Today). 

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