Track the facts

Are non-COVID deaths being blamed on COVID? False

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According to a new rumour, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “quietly” announced that “only 6% of all deaths” attributed to COVID-19 were actual COVID-19 deaths. The Rumour Detector explains why “the only cause mentioned on the death certificate” doesn’t mean that “only these people died from COVID”. 

The origin of the rumour 

According to a message launched August 29 on Twitter, the CDC “quietly” updated its COVID-19 statistics on August 22 to “recognize that only 6% of all the 153,504 deaths [then] recorded [in the United States] were really deaths from COVID”. This message, launched by an activist identified with the extreme right wing QAnon movement, quickly went viral. It was shared by Donald Trump, among others. It has become a sledgehammer argument for some of those who claim there isn’t really a pandemic, or that the number of deaths has been exaggerated.  

The facts 

In reality, the CDC said that for 6% of the deceased, “COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned on the death certificate”. For all the others, at least one other cause (a “comorbidity”) was mentioned: respiratory or cardiac diseases, hypertension, kidney problems, obesity, diabetes, etc. 

This is nothing new. Practically since the pandemic began in China, researchers have repeated that certain groups are more at risk from the coronavirus. These groups include people suffering from respiratory or cardiac problems, diabetes or obesity, among other conditions. Confusion has also prevailed for a long time regarding seniors. Age wasn’t the only risk factor regarding the virus, as some claimed. There was also the fact that people suffered from certain diseases.  

In other words, these are individuals who could have lived with their health problem for years, but whose respiratory condition, for example, deteriorated rapidly due to the virus.  

The CDC doesn’t say anywhere that only 6% of deaths are “attributable to COVID”. It says that no other factor was noted for only 6% of deaths — which doesn’t mean there weren’t any.  

A study published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimated that the vast majority of 5700 patients hospitalized in New York for COVID (average age: 63 years) had two health problems (in addition to COVID). The proportion of those who had no other problems was estimated at 6%.  

Finally, this wasn’t a “quiet” update. That’s because it has been posted clearly on the CDC’s website every week for months, in addition to announcements on CDC’s social media.  


To go farther: 
  • The fact that the pandemic caused an above-normal number of deaths is no longer debated in the medical community. The statistics of many countries show that, for the months of March, April and May, the number of deaths as clearly above the average for the previous years.  Explanation. 
  • The COVID death rate has led to many false statements since the pandemic began.  Explanation
  • Age isn’t the only risk factor for severe problems caused by COVID.  Explanation



This article was originally published on the website of L'Agence Science-Presse (French only).


Photo: Excess deaths in Quebec in April-May 2020 (in red). The Institut de la statistique du Québec.


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