Are COVID-19 Death Statistics Being Inflated?

After Imperial College London coronavirus model estimates were dramatically reduced, supposedly immediately after the UK lockdown was implemented, we’re left to wonder whether any of those early dire predictions of millions of COVID-19 deaths were correct.

COVID-19 data from around the world are widely varied from Italy’s 10.56% case fatality rate to Germany’s 0.67% rate. The numbers are ever-changing, but it’s clear there is a massive difference between countries. Is it likely that the actual death rates differ that much from country to country or that other factors are the cause?

Tests have been unreliable around the world, prompting some countries to discontinue use of Chinese tests for instance. There have also been reports of testing centers turning away people with symptoms from being tested.

Given all that, we can stipulate that the more a country tests, the lower the case fatality rate will be. That makes low testing countries like Italy, which has previously only tested those presenting with symptoms, a poor guide.

Just because you have coronavirus when you die doesn’t mean you died from coronavirus

Worse, though, is the suspect way the country is tracking COVID-19 deaths.

A study out of Italy showed that 99 percent of the “coronavirus deaths” in that country had other illnesses. Nearly half had three or more illnesses at the time of death. Just 0.8% of the total, had no previous pathology.

In some instances, the virus may very well have compounded the other illnesses and may have technically caused the person to die. But in others, the death may be attributed to coronavirus when in fact the person died from something completely unrelated.

Professor Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health,  said that Italy’s death rate may be so high because of how doctors record fatalities. 

“The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.

“On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 percent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 percent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three,” he says. 

This policy is presumably based on WHO policy, which allows for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and patients who are assumed to have COVID-19 but have not been tested to be coded as COVID-19 deaths: “Both categories, U07.1 (COVID19, virus identified) and U07.2 (COVID19, virus not identified) are suitable for cause of death coding. ”

Over-reporting in the United States

COVID-19 over-reporting isn’t limited to Italy. The numbers haven’t been analyzed yet, but we know of multiple prominent cases with which the cause of death is suspect.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards was using the death of a 17-year-old who had tested positive of coronavirus as proof that “everyone is at risk.” But the boy’s father said that he died from heart failure, which is not a symptom of coronavirus.

Louisiana officials’ practice is to include anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 and died in their tally of deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Similar to WHO, the CDC allow for this coding as long as the deceased was presumed to have the disease even if there were no conclusive test. From the official guidance by the CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death.”

Here is Dr. Birx explaining the policy:

Here is Dr. Annie Bukacek explaining the policy:

A California teen—also 17—who was reported as a coronavirus death is also questionable. “Though early tests indicated a positive result for COVID-19, the case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation for this fatality,” read a statement by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The most egregious case over over-reporting we’ve seen is the Chicago inflant who died after testing positive for coronavirus. The infant had been in the hospital for four weeks from a bowel obstruction and multiple organ failures, but the death is being counted in coronavirus mortality statistics.

It’s hard to say how many deaths are erroneously being attributed to coronavirus, but it’s certainly higher than zero.