Once again, the U.S. is undergoing a media-driven COVID-19 scare after a “spike” in infections. But as we noted earlier this week, the number of cases depends on the amount of testing. The key gauge to watch is deaths. They’ve been falling since April, and there’s strong reason to believe they’re lower than the official count suggests.
The dreaded Wuhan virus is no doubt a nasty bug, worthy of our vigilance and ongoing concern. That said, its virulence, as measured by the daily number of deaths, appears to be waning, as the chart with this piece, courtesy of the COVID-19 Tracking Project of the Atlantic, clearly shows.
The average number of daily COVID-19 deaths on a weekly basis has fallen from a peak of just over 2,000 to 700 or so. That’s a roughly 65% decline. And it’s no fluke. The figure has been dropping steadily since April.
Hold on. That last number for June 23 on the chart shows a huge jump. Should we be worried? Is this the much-dreaded surge some have been talking up?
Apparently not. A big part of that one-time gain came from a revision by one state: Delaware.
As Youyang Gu, an MIT data scientist who created the COVID 19-projections.com site, tweeted: “To put the increase in deaths in context, Delaware added 69 deaths today: ‘The revision came from identifying 67 deaths dating back to April.’ So if you take out those 67 deaths, the week-over-week deaths have not changed.”
Goldman Sachs’ state-level tracker shows similar trends. The volume of coronavirus tests has risen 23% in the past two weeks, but positive results have increased just 1.3 percentage points to 6.2%. Meanwhile, deaths have fallen over the past two weeks by 12%.
This is bad news for those who, for a variety of reasons, seek to plunge us back into lockdowns and social isolation, despite the proven devastating economic impacts that would have. If COVID-19 deaths aren’t rising, and they aren’t, the rationale for shutdowns evaporates.
But the rationale in the first place could be even weaker than first thought. The reason for this is that the deaths now attributed to COVID-19 might be grossly exaggerated. The evidence is substantial, and has been obvious for weeks. (We first wrote about it in late May.)
Dr. Deborah Birx, the respected physician who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus team, reportedly argued back in May at a closed Centers for Disease Control meeting that the agency’s death estimates were 25% too high, according to a Washington Post report.
Anecdotal evidence at the state level suggests this is true. In fact, estimates may be off by more than 25%.
A review of Minnesota deaths through late May, for instance, found that of 741 registered COVID-19 deaths, fewer than 41% listed it as a “primary cause.” By that standard, George Floyd, who died in police custody and tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus, could have been counted as a COVID-19 fatality had his death not been so well publicized.
How could this happen?
In most U.S. jurisdictions, unlike many other countries, if someone dies with COVID-19, that becomes the cause of death for official purposes. That’s true even if it didn’t technically “cause” the person’s death.
But sometimes even not being infected counts. After New York reported its 10,000 fatalities in May, the New York Times revealed that “3,700 additional people who were presumed to have died of the coronavirus … had never tested positive.”
In California, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond investigated 194 COVID-19 deaths through mid-May and found that only six could be clearly claimed as caused by COVID-19. “We’ve unfortunately had six pure, solely coronavirus deaths — six out of 3.3 million people,” said Desmond.
Washington state reported that at least five of its then 828 COVID-19 deaths were actually due to gunshot wounds. Pennsylvania had to remove “hundreds of deaths” from its tally for misreporting the actual causes.
Same thing in Colorado, where a man found dead in a park with a 0.55% alcohol blood level was declared a COVID-19 victim.
Colorado has since changed how it counts fatalities, as have many other states. But the fact remains: The death totals are almost certainly grossly exaggerated due to intentional miscounting. There are strong incentives to over-report, but few to under-report.
The Centers for Disease Control admits as much in its June 24 update of the data:
“For 7% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.5 additional conditions or causes per death.”
So in only one in 14 deaths out of the current total of 125,000 can COVID-19 be said to be the actual cause.
A recent column by economist John Lott Jr. and Dr. Timothy Craig Allen, governor of the College of American Pathologists, describes how physicians are pushed to make COVID-19 diagnoses for powerful economic reasons.
“Some doctors feel pressure from hospitals to list deaths as due to the coronavirus, even when they don’t believe that is the case, ‘to make it look a little bit worse than it is.,'” Lott and Allen wrote. “There are financial incentives that might make a difference for hospitals and doctors. The CARES Act adds a 20% premium for COVID-19 Medicare patients.”
Yet, even with an overcount, the number of COVID-19 deaths is falling sharply. As President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “Cases up only because of our big number testing. Mortality rate way down!!!”
Even the normally anti-Trump “fact-checker” Politifact was forced to begrudgingly admit that Trump’s statement is accurate “for now.”
“The number of coronavirus deaths per day has continued to fall in June even as the number of cases has risen,” PolitiFact said.
We bring all this up again to remind you: While this Wuhan bug is dangerous, it is likely not as deadly as advertised. The CDC’s own estimate for what’s called the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR), made early this month, is about 0.26%. The regular flu, by comparison, has an IFR of about 0.1%. So using the government’s own likely inflated COVID-19 death data, the IFR for the Chinese-origin virus is about that of a very bad seasonal flu — and not the 3.4% first estimated.
Subtract the impact of horrendous policy errors in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio caused thousands of nursing home residents to die needlessly, and fatality rates shrink even further.
With COVID-19 infections indeed going up due to more testing, we’ll soon be hearing the same strident voices yelling for a shutdown. But the death rates once used to scare us into an extreme reaction now appear even lower than they do after weeks of decline.
Until our national “experts” can explain to us why we should take these bad numbers seriously, don’t be panicked by phony warnings about possible increases in deaths. Manipulated numbers should never be used to make sweeping public policy decisions. That’s especially true now, with the left looking for any way it can find to shut down the economy again and end Trump’s presidency.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board.