Political News

No, the CDC isn't fiddling with the coronavirus death numbers

Posted May 4, 2020 6:32 p.m. EDT

— Over the weekend, a "fact" about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downgrading the number of dead to 37,000 went viral.

"Did I read this wrong or did the CDC just revised the national COVID-19 deaths to 37,308?!?!" tweeted Tim Young, who identifies himself as an author, host and comedian on his Twitter bio.

Soon, the idea was everywhere on the conservative side of the internet. The CDC was openly admitting that the number of dead from coronavirus was FAR less than the 67,000+ deaths commonly being reported by the media.

For many conservatives, the story was too good to resist, since it combined their belief that the government had overreacted to the threat posed by the coronavirus with their distaste for and distrust of the media.

The only problem? The story wasn't true.

Because the link Young sent around takes you to this page -- headlined "Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease."

And, yes, on that page, you will see that the total number of deaths from Covid-19 is listed as 38,576. Which is a whole lot less than the 68,285 deaths being reported from coronavirus via the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

But you only need to read the text on the page to see what explains the discrepancy. And here's the key bit:

"Provisional death counts are based on death certificate data received and coded by the National Center for Health Statistics as of May 4, 2020. Death counts are delayed and may differ from other published sources (see Technical Notes). Counts will be updated periodically."

So, the numbers that Young and others were peddling as evidence of some sort of revelation about the "real" death count were, in fact, numbers that the CDC acknowledges are weeks behind the actual mortality number.

Jonathan Swift may have died in 1745, but his quote that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes" rings truer today -- thanks to the internet's power to multiply falsehoods in seconds -- than it ever did back in the 18th century.

The Point: Coronavirus has laid plain just how big a mis- and dis-information problem we have in the United States. The stripping of context from facts in order to weaponize them to score partisan points is a war in its own right, and all of us are potential victims.

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