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Are COVID deaths lower than the CDC originally claimed? #TheQandA

Our Q and A team gets answers to your questions, like this one about a retweet from the president suggesting fewer people have actually died from coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — Over the weekend, President Donald Trump retweeted a message suggesting that the Centers of Disease Control quietly updated their website with COVID-19 data that shows fewer people have actually died from the coronavirus than previously believed. Many people on wondering if it's true. Our #TheQandA team is here with that answer.

Last week the CDC did update a report about COVID-19 deaths that was originally posted on May 8. But, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja with Johns Hopkins University, the tweet that the president retweeted, misrepresents the CDC’s data. 

Twitter agrees. On Sunday, the social media company flagged the original tweet saying it is in violation of their rules. The tweet has since been taken down.

RELATED: VERIFY: Why COVID-19 isn’t the only listed cause of most coronavirus-related deaths

But the data from the CDC is important, so WUSA9 spoke to Dr. Adalja to help verify what this latest data means.

The Centers for Disease Control released an update to their report on COVID-19 deaths. Their data shows that 94% of people who died from COVID-19 in the U.S. had contributing health conditions, while only 6% had COVID-19 listed as their only cause of death. 

Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an infectious disease critical care and emergency medicine physician, said this information reemphasizes what we already know about who the virus fatally impacts.


"What it means is that people who die from COVID, who get hospitalized with COVID, often have other conditions like diabetes, hypertension cardiovascular disease that contribute to the severity of COVID," he said. "This is nothing new. We've known from the beginning that those people who are high risk for severe disease, often have other medical conditions." 

Adalja said the CDC data shows that if you have no other medical conditions, it's less likely that you will die from COVID-19, but that doesn't mean that you can't die from the virus.

Dr. Adalja explained why someone unfamiliar with death certificates may misunderstand that CDC data.

"For those who've never thought of a death certificate, it is important to note there usually are three lines [on the document where you can] put three [causes of death]," Adalja said. "You might write this person died of pneumonia and respiratory failure and COVID-19. So now even though that's all COVID-19 related stuff, it looks like, to someone who doesn't understand how a death certificate is filled out, that this person had other contributing causes to death."

Credit: WUSA9


Both the CDC and Johns Hopkins have confirmed that people with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But does new data from the CDC indicate that the mortality rate of COVID isn't as bad as we thought? 

Dr. Adajia said no. 

"If you look at the excess mortalities there clearly is a huge effect from COVID-19, irrespective of whether or not a person has another medical condition," he said. "This is a deadly infectious disease."

Excess mortalities are a baseline of how many people die in a given month in a given geographic area. He said medical researchers can look at that baseline and see: Is this year worse than last year? Is this month, worse than the same month last month?

RELATED: Coronavirus updates: Cases remain low in DC, Maryland; Virginia curve increasing

"And that's what we're seeing with this pandemic," Adalja said. "In the months of the pandemic, especially looking at peak months, for example in New York City, the excess mortality is substantially different than it was one year ago. So there was something driving those deaths, and obviously coincident with the pandemic." 

Dr. Adalja said it's really important that we get accurate data on who is dying and how they're dying because that helps medical professionals fine-tune their response to those populations that are most vulnerable to severe disease from COVID-19.

"This data [from the CDC] gives doctors a heightened sense of urgency when they're taking care of a person who has COVID-19 in addition to diabetes or hypertension or whatever other co-morbid condition is," he said. 

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