COVID Data Myths

A bizarre post has been circulating on the web claiming (1) that U.S. death did not increase in 2020, (2) any increase attributed to COVID-19 is caused by other illnesses, and (3) thus COVID-19 and all our efforts to contain it amount to an elaborate hoax. The post "cites" (i.e., claims without actual citation) that this conclusion is based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. It is not, as anyone can see who looks at the readily available CDC data. You do not need me or any statistician to interpret it for you. But I will anyway.


First of all, here are the actual numbers. The total deaths and % of population come from CDC Data Briefs covering 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The leading causes of death rely on CDC numbers, but were compiled by Ahmad & Anderson in an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Here is what the data show:

  1. Deaths in 2020 were much higher than what we would expect from the average.

  2. COVID was the main new killer, but it did not draw its numbers from misdiagnosis of other conditions. Most other top conditions were also more lethal in 2020. 

  3. The only illnesses with lower mortality were flu, pneumonia, and lower respiratory disease--conditions that are somewhat protected by the same kinds of measures used to reduce the spread of coronaviruses.

If you assume, as some do, that the entire COVID thing is a hoax, then the options for dealing with the 560k-plus extra death certificates in 2020 are quite grim.

  • Did all these people simply not die? Don't suggest this in a bar where large guy next to you has just buried his mom or brother. You may become a statistic for 2021.

  • Do we attribute them to those other diseases that are already on the rise? That means we have a huge upswing in deaths from heart disease, cancer, and other conditions for which we have only partial treatments.

  • Or is there an unknown killer among us for which we have no name and no protection?

Fortunately we are simply struggling with a coronavirus, different from but related to other coronaviruses that have plagued us in the past. We have effective vaccines and effective non-medical personal protection. Given the horrific deaths in this and other countries, and the other options to account for them, I say embrace the virus. It's actually the best thing we've got going.

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Copyright (c) 2021 Talbot Bielefeldt