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TRUST INDEX: Is the CDC exaggerating the number of Americans killed by COVID-19?

We’ve introduced you to several people who have survived serious cases of COVID-19. It is a scary diagnosis for many and some people do not survive. But, a new debate this week surrounds numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about COVID-19 deaths.

We put the social media claim to our Trust Index.

What CDC COVID-19 data was released?

The CDC published data showing 6% of COVID-19 deaths were from COVID-19 alone, while 94% of the deaths had underlying factors or “comorbidities.”

The information led to a social media storm with claims the COVID-19 death count has been greatly exaggerated all along. Is this true?

Trust Index Results

We put these claims to the Trust Index.

The claim that the numbers are fake is false.

What the CDC published shows that 6% of coronavirus deaths were from COVID-19 alone while the other 94% of deaths had underlying factors, and while the percentages are true, it doesn’t mean the 6% is the real COVID-19 death count. It means those are the only deaths where patients had no other pre-existing conditions.

“That means the only thing listed on the death certificate is COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 as the cause of death,” said Dr. Peter Bigler, Chief Medical Officer at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group. “The other 94% of the time there is another condition listed, which contributed to the patient passing away.”

That means COVID-19 can be among several factors in a patient’s death.

“When we fill out a death certificate, we have to put a primary cause of death,” Dr. Bigler explained. “But if there are secondary causes that contributed to the patient passing away, we also list that. It could be a comorbid health condition like a heart problem or a pulmonary problem or a pulmonary problem that was developed by that primary issue.”

Dr. Bigler said people don’t always die from the comorbidities alone. They can live long lives with diabetes or high blood pressure, for example, but in combination with COVID-19, it can be deadly.

“Diabetics have altered immune systems. Those that are obese are more likely to have respiratory issues as well, of course, diabetes that then puts you at a higher risk of a more complicated course as you fight through this virus,” Dr. Bigler said.

What about those who died from unrelated injuries. Are they listed as COVID-19 deaths?

There are people who claim some patients died from other injuries but tested positive for COVID-19 so they are counted as COVID deaths.

That’s also false.

Right on the CDC website, it says, “Deaths due to external causes (i.e.injuries) or unknown causes are excluded.”

You can read more about this from the CDC here.

During this time of COVID-19, there is a lot of information and some of it is hard to trust. See a questionable claim on social media? Share it with the Trust Index fact-checking team and we will verify what’s true and what to avoid.