Padding the coronavirus death numbers
By Jim Wagner
The CDC now acknowledges a death rate for coronavirus of 1%, a grudging admission that its earlier death rate estimates of 4% and higher vastly overstated the risk from this disease. See: U.S. COVID-19 death rate is 1.3%, study finds. But with additional antibody testing I have no doubt that that number will fall further, to a level comparable to common flu. See: Multiple Studies Suggest COVID-19 Mortality Rate May Be Lower Than Expected.
Similarly, notwithstanding early CDC reporting that large numbers of asymptomatic children were silent carriers of this virus, it is now recognized that children under 18 years of age are as much as 13 times less likely to contract this infection in the first place, and less likely to transmit it when they do contract it. Generally speaking, the early reporting on this pandemic has been strikingly inaccurate.
Meanwhile, the raw number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. is now being inflated at a troubling rate. See: Coronavirus Death Numbers Are A Complete Fraud. I am reluctant to say this, but I am beginning to suspect that a significant majority of alleged coronavirus deaths are actually deaths from commonly terminal old age conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease with accompanying but irrelevant coronavirus infection. It has been widely reported that some number of patients are dying “with” coronavirus, but not “of” it. But we have no idea what proportion of total deaths that number represents. To express my concern another way, I am beginning to suspect that for most geriatric deaths now being reported as coronavirus deaths the actual cause of death had nothing to do with the accompanying coronavirus infection either as tested or as assumed to exist.
My reasoning is not complicated. In fact, it is so simple almost to amount to common sense. In the first linked article above you will see two profound incentives for reporting coronavirus as the cause of death in cases where it was not the actual cause—even in cases where no testing at all was done. Those incentives are: First, the explicit CDC directives to report all possible deaths as coronavirus deaths. Second, the considerable financial inducements to treat and report comorbid patient deaths as coronavirus deaths. On the basis of these incentives New York has recently reclassified 3700 past deaths as coronavirus fatalities.
Now here is the astoundingly obvious reason why these inducements likely result in a more extreme over-representation of coronavirus deaths than anyone has yet imagined. We know that approaching 90% of those reportedly dying from coronavirus are elderly and have at least one comorbidity. See: Comorbidities the rule in New York’s COVID-19 deaths Many have two comorbidities or more. At the other extreme, according to Science Magazine six out of seven coronavirus cases, or 86%, are “undocumented,” that is, 86% of those infected are not sick enough to have been reported. See: Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) While these results are based on Chinese data, that number is not far above the commonly reported figure of 80% for “mild and asymptomatic cases.”
It is axiomatic that older people are far more likely to die of every sort of age related disease, from COPD to heart conditions to diabetes and so forth. And we know that if they die of such a disease while also infected with the Covid-19 virus they will almost invariably be reported as coronavirus deaths. Furthermore, we know that all such patients are now being tested for coronavirus, and that if they test positive their deaths will assuredly be recorded as coronavirus deaths. But has anyone considered this startling possibility? Our common sense tells us that at least some of these patients must have died from their comorbidities. So the question is not whether the reported death total for coronavirus is wrong, but only the extent to which it is wrong. What if the majority of those old people have mild or even asymptomatic coronavirus infections that contributed nothing to their deaths? What if the majority of them would have died anyway, and did die, not of coronavirus but of their comorbidities?
This speculation is not farfetched. Even for the most vulnerable age group of 80 years and older, the reported death rate for coronavirus infection does not exceed 15%. See again: Multiple Studies Suggest COVID-19 Mortality Rate May Be Lower Than Expected. That means that even of the oldest and most vulnerable infected individuals, upwards of 85% survive. And yet virtually all in that age group have comorbidities. Does it not then seem fair to assume that a substantial percentage of those elderly people presenting with coronavirus plus common comorbidities would also have survived their coronavirus infection had they not succumbed to their heart or lung or circulatory conditions? A coronavirus death rate of 15% for any age group is surely troubling. But if some number approaching 85% of that 15% are actually dying from pre-existing conditions but are stubbornly and erroneously being reported as coronavirus deaths, then from an epidemiological standpoint that is even more troubling. Bear in mind that upwards of two thirds of all coronavirus deaths fall upon persons in that extreme elderly age group. The data for New York City is representative. See: COVID-19 death rates in New York City as of May 10, 2020, by age group Thus, a systematic reporting error that affects only the elderly is not trivial; it distorts the entire pandemic.
This can be simply illustrated by examining our annual death rate for a single cause. Nearly 700,000 Americans die each year of heart disease. That is approximately one quarter of all U.S. deaths. See: What are the leading causes of death in the US? Coincidentally heart disease, including high blood pressure, is the leading comorbidity in coronavirus fatalities. Imagine the significance if only one in ten heart disease fatalities is recorded as a coronavirus death. That would add 70,000 to this year’s coronavirus death toll. Lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, and pneumonia are consistently reported to be among the most prevalent coronavirus comorbidities. These conditions also make the top ten list of total U.S. deaths. Is it a coincidence that those most prone to die of coronavirus carry exactly the same comorbidities that are most likely to result in their near term deaths without coronavirus?
The likelihood of extreme reporting distortion as a result of the perverse incentives I have here noted may help to explain Dr. Deborah Birx’s exasperated statement yesterday that “there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.” See: Deborah Birx reportedly tells task force she can trust “nothing from the CDC” Dr. Birx, whose impressive resume includes a directorship of retrovirus research at Walter Reed, is the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White house Coronavirus Task Force. She went on to suggest that the CDC may well be overstating the coronavirus death rate “by as much as 25%.” In my view, that is a modest estimate.
I am not suggesting that a great many people are not being treated for and dying of the Covid-19 coronavirus. But I am suggesting that coronavirus death certificates are being systematically attached to a very large number—a majority perhaps – of individuals who have actually died of other causes. If this is taking place, it would mean that our extreme societal defensive reaction to this disease has been misguided. Comorbidities increase dramatically with chronological age on an ascending curve that closely mirrors the age related death curve for coronavirus. Could it be that our reported coronavirus death counts are so widely contaminated by comorbidity deaths as to render their reported number utterly misrepresentative of the true number of coronavirus deaths? Given the inaccuracy of virtually all other coronavirus reporting since the onset of this pandemic, why should we assume the experts have got it right on this question?
© Jim Wagner
Published with Permission of renewamerica.com