HomeHealth Care NewsCOVID-19 Death Data from States Called into Question

COVID-19 Death Data from States Called into Question

Questions about the reliability of COVID-19 death counts, case numbers, and test results raised throughout the pandemic remain unanswered, leading to inflated mortality statistics, say officials and researchers.

Colorado health officials changed procedures for cause of death determinations during the pandemic, leading to inaccurate COVID case and mortality numbers, says Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska).

“When the Department of Health (and Human Services) and the CDC decided to change the rules that had been in place for 17 years by encouraging the diagnosis of COVID-19 in situations that we never would have otherwise, they were abandoning their long-held commitment to precisely identifying the inciting or the initiating event that would lead to a sequence of events that would lead to a person’s demise,” Jensen told Fox News on January 2, 2021.

‘A Judgment Call’

Death counts are imprecise by nature, says Gregg Girvan, a research fellow at Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP).

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a propensity to count everyone who died ‘with’ COVID as a COVID death,” said Girvan. “Gradually, reporting agencies changed this to count COVID deaths based on whether COVID played a role or was an underlying factor in the person’s death,” said Girvan.

“It becomes a judgment call on the part of medical staff and coroners who fill out the death certificate, weighing the various conditions the person had,” said Girvan. “For these reasons and more, a positive PCR test alone is not enough to declare the cause of death as COVID. But the fact that it is ultimately a judgment call means the process is imprecise and prone to some error. The real question is how big the error is and in what direction.”

Test Reliability Questioned

Deaths some states reported as COVID-19 fatalities could have had nothing to do with the virus other than false positives from the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, The New York Times reported in July 2021.

Several testing facilities amplified the cycle thresholds (Ct) to levels of 40 or higher which would increase the chance of getting a positive result.  The New York Times reviewed samples from three states where labs use a Ct of 37-40, and found up to 90 percent of tests were essentially coming back as false positives.

The high number of false positives eventually led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the maximum number of amplifications to 28, although this change did not occur until May 2021. The CDC eventually requested the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its request to use the PCR under Emergency Use Authorization effective January 1, 2022.

Inflated Death Numbers

Minnesota officials were concerned there were too few reported COVID deaths, an October 2020 email exchange leaked by a whistleblower widely reported by the press revealed.

The Chief of Staff to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told the state’s Department of Health their numbers on how Covid was spreading were “less useful than what I expected” because “these numbers are small.” The Commissioner of Health responded, “people look at the primary case numbers and think those are small impacts that don’t justify the dial backs we propose.” She subsequently urged her staff to engage in “creative thinking.”

In December 2020, Minnesota state Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) and Jensen called for an audit of state COVID-19 numbers.

“I enlisted some people that are really good at understanding data … to go through those death files and what I found was shocking because I was just hoping that it was a myth, but indeed, Minnesota is classifying some deaths as COVID when clearly, they should not be,” said Franson in a December 2020 interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “We should not have people dying in motor vehicle collisions, suicides, drownings, et cetera and being classified as a COVID death.”

CARES Act Enhanced Payments

Enhanced payments to hospitals caring for COVID-19 Medicare patients gave them an incentive to code for COVID-19, says Jensen.

Under the CARES Act Congress passed in response to the pandemic, hospitals were also given $77,000 for each COVID-19 case beyond a threshold of 161. At the same time, federal health agencies changed their rules on how hospitals should report the disease.

In Colorado,  deaths from a murder-suicide in which both victims died of gunshot wounds were reported as COVID-19 deaths in the state database before death certificates were issued, Grand County coroner Brenda Bock stated on Full Measure, a weekly nationally syndicated television interview program, on September 19, 2021. Bock said the New York Times over-reported Grand County’s 2020 Covid death toll by least 500 percent.

Legislators Demand Answers

In Pennsylvania, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution in November 2020 requiring the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to review the Department of Health’s reporting of COVID-19 testing and deaths, but the state’s Department of Health refused to provide the data.

The sponsor of the resolution, state Rep. Kate Klunk (R-Hanover), cited discrepancies in the information published by the Department of Health, including the removal of thousands of COVID-19 positive cases from the daily totals, days where there were significant statistical anomalies in the data, the commingling of data, and the listing of COVID as a comorbid factor when the cause of death was something else.

Highly redacted data was eventually provided.

Kevin Stone (kevin.s.stone@gmail.com) writes from Arlington, Texas

 

Kevin Stone
Kevin Stone
Kevin Stone writes from Dallas, Texas.

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