Each day, new figures from countries and states around the world show a startling increase in Coronavirus deaths. Reader beware: There is a difference between dying with an illness and dying of it, and complete, accurate reporting – conspicuously missing from the current media mess – is crucial. Consequently, how COVID-19 casualties are reported can be confusing, and the lack of context is only making it worse.
To the average reader, a number is just a number. One reads it in a newspaper and accepts it point-blank as an accurate reflection of reality. The trouble is that there are so many uncertainties and biases that the reported numbers may give a false impression.
Consider the reported death rate in Germany and Italy. As of April 8, 2020, a whopping 12.3% of the Italian cases have ended in death, but only 1.8% of the German patients shared that fate. Some of this is undoubtedly due to differences in age demographics and spread patterns, but a significant part of the explanation lies in the way deaths are counted. In Italy, all people who die with the Wuhan Coronavirus are counted as COVID-19 deaths. In Germany, only those who are explicitly found to die of virus symptoms are included in the statistics.
An Italian study found that only 12% of their recorded deaths could be directly linked to the Coronavirus. When correcting for this, the Italian death rate is suddenly in line with the German.
There is evidence that such overcounting occurs in other countries. Recently, the French death toll jumped dramatically in a single day. It turns out that older people who had died in nursing homes had been tested postmortem, and those who had the virus were included in the French COVID-19 death toll.
Even in America, the CDC has given an instruction manual that opens for erring on the side of overcounting. In an alert from March 24, Dr. Steven Schwartz wrote that “COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death.”
Even if all the numbers were accurate – which they are not – they can be distorted through the way media reports them in a vacuum. Did you know that in 2018, 2.84 million people died in America? Life is lethal, and every year around 1% of us die for some reason, usually age-related. Currently, the Coronavirus has killed 4 per 100,000 citizens. In 2018, the corresponding number for suicide alone was 14.2. Influenza and pneumonia killed 14.9, cancer 152.5, and heart disease 163.6 per 100,000. If the reported COVID-19 deaths are accurate, the pie chart shows how they compare to all other deaths. The virus should be taken seriously, but a minuscule fraction of the deaths gets nearly 100% of the press coverage and therefore creates an unrealistic sense of gloom.
Even if lead member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci’s fear of 150,000 coronavirus deaths becomes a reality, it would hardly be measurable in the overall death numbers. This does not mean the deaths are any less tragic or that the Coronavirus is an ordinary flu that can be ignored. If viewed in its proper context along with other causes of death, the virus emerges as only one of the myriads of factors that end lives – especially those of the elderly. This context is lost in sensationalized media reporting.
Social distancing and enhanced hygiene are unquestionably having an impact, not only on the Coronavirus but also on all other forms of infectious diseases. Healthweather.us reports that the number of flu-like symptoms in America now is below average.
These measures are unquestionably saving lives, but what is the impact on health from an economic depression? Balanced reporting may help Americans see the Coronavirus in its proper context.
Read more from Onar Åm.
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