Hours before the United States surpassed 6 million coronavirus cases and reached a death toll of 183,000, President Donald Trump and his defenders seized on an amateurish misreading of federal data to claim that the COVID-19 pandemic has killed hardly anyone at all.
It started Sunday, when Trump retweeted a QAnon conspiracist who claimed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “quietly” “admit[ted] that only 6%” of coronavirus casualties “actually died from Covid.”
Twitter removed the tweet, saying it violated the platform’s rules. But it quickly became the party line. Gateway Pundit, a far-right conspiracist website, accused the CDC of releasing its data “quietly,” while Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing polemicist, called it “a brewing scandal of epic proportions. Trump’s legal adviser Jenna Ellis retweeted the Gateway Pundit post. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeated the falsehood on Monday as fact.
The implication of the message is that the vast majority of pandemic victims were already at death’s door because of another condition. But that’s not what the data says.
What is misleading and minimizing about blaming preexisting conditions for the coronavirus death toll, or treating people with preexisting conditions as inevitable casualties of the pandemic, is that more than half of U.S. adults have some type of underlying medical condition. It also risks suggesting to Americans that the illness is dangerous to only a select group of people.
The false claims stem from a misinterpretation of a routine CDC update about national coronavirus figures.
What that data shows is that among deaths determined to be related to the coronavirus, 6% of the death certificates list COVID-19 as the sole cause of death and 94% list a variety of “additional conditions or causes.”Some “additional causes” were chronic medical conditions such as diabetes. Others were common symptoms of coronavirus, such as respiratory failure, pneumonia and cardiac arrest.
The upshot is that not all “additional causes” point to a preexisting condition. And it is not possible, from the CDC’s superficial figures, to tell who might have had a preexisting illness but died primarily of the coronavirus, or who would have lived for years if they hadn’t contracted the deadly disease.
The measure of the impact of a pandemic is its impact on the population as it already exists, not its impact on a small, healthy, isolated population with no preexisting conditions.Dr. Nancy Krieger, a professor of social epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
But Trump supporters have falsely represented those figures to mean that only 6% of COVID-19…