A lot of people seem to believe that the death toll of COVID-19, now over 60,000 in the United States, is exaggerated and that the virus is far more common and widespread than previously believed. To be sure, it appears the virus is more widespread than initially believed. However, it is not nearly as widespread as some claim. The initial antibody studies were flawed, and there is evidence some of the antibody tests were just bad, triggering a positive result based on the common cold.
We should acknowledge that Congress has provided a financial incentive for hospitals to over inflate deaths from COVID-19. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act recently passed by Congress, hospitals will get 20% more Medicare/Medicaid money based on treatment for COVID-19 as a primary or a secondary infection.
That 20% add-on payment has allowed a number of people to claim all the deaths are exaggerated and things are not so bad. While some are pushing the idea that the virus really is no worse than a bad flu, there is also plenty of data suggesting governments are undercounting deaths. Reporting separately, both The New York Times and the Financial Times note urban areas around the world have seen similar spikes in deaths at home. Subtract out the averages for people dying of heart attacks, strokes and other events in those areas, and there is still a larger and largely unexplained spike in people dying. This reasonably does suggest COVID-19 is killing people at home. Many of these unexplained deaths involved respiratory distress.
In the United States, flu and pneumonia deaths are counted based on confirmed tests and presumed cases. COVID-19 numbers are based on confirmed positive cases. Contrary to some speculation, the death total does not include presumed cases of COVID-19 deaths, except for some in New York City. In the 2018-2019 flu season, based on confirmed and presumed flu cases, approximately 34,000 Americans died. In the past nine weeks, over 50,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 based on just confirmed cases.
Some claim COVID-19 deaths are overinflated because people are dying of other things but tested positive for COVID-19, so they are being categorized as COVID-19 deaths. There may be isolated cases, but it is no evidence this is widespread.
There could be an illuminati controlling the data, inflating the deaths and making sure every country is in that 20% hospitalization metric and 3-5% death rate. Someone somewhere could be secretly calling hospital administrators around the world telling everyone to boost their numbers to keep everything globally in line. "Only the American hospitals are going to get that 20% bonus, but we need to keep everyone's data in line to help out those American hospitals," they'd whisper, and remarkably, everyone who overshares on social media would keep it all secret.
Instead of a conspiracy, maybe the virus is actually bad. Maybe there are some deaths being mischaracterized. Maybe some of the deaths are exaggerated. But like Democrats claiming Republicans suppressed the vote and that's how they won, maybe the effort to exaggerate and suppress is not vast enough to change overall outcomes. Right now, COVID-19 is killing people at a rate orders of magnitude higher than even a bad flu. Even if the numbers dropped based on error or fabrication, they'd have to drop massively to get down to flu rates just based on positive tests.
Thus far, in nine weeks, over 60,000 Americans have died based on a positive COVID-19 test. Are we really to believe 40,000 of those deaths were from something other than COVID-19 and the paperwork was rigged? Was it 20,000? Or is it actually a pretty bad virus that is worse than the flu?
On the flip side, while I think sheltering in place was the right idea, I think moving the goal posts from "flatten the curve" to "eliminate the virus before reopening" is wrong. Americans did as they were told. We have flattened the curve. The virus is bad, but so, too, is economic devastation.
All I can do is give you the data. I can't make you believe it.
To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.