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Tipsheet

CDC: Due to a 'Coding Error,' We Massively Over-Counted COVID Deaths Among Children

Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool

We'll get to the CDC changes in a moment. First, we are just beginning to quantify the ongoing damage done by COVID, as well as the harm inflicted by related lockdowns and restrictions. Children and students were particularly hard-hit by the latter phenomenon, as they were overwhelmingly safe from severe outcomes from Coronavirus infections – yet had their learning, development and overall wellbeing aggressively stunted by terrible government policies in many parts of the country. We also know that drug overdoses surged overall, and youth suicide attempts increased, during this stressful period featuring a great deal of social isolation. Another contributing factor to the "excess deaths" phenomenon (the biggest of which was COVID itself) was deaths linked to alcohol abuse. The New York Times reports: 

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A new study reports that the number of Americans who died of alcohol-related causes increased precipitously during the first year of the pandemic, as routines were disrupted, support networks frayed and treatment was delayed. The startling report comes amid a growing realization that Covid’s toll extends beyond the number of lives claimed directly by the disease to the excess deaths caused by illnesses left untreated and a surge in drug overdoses, as well as to social costs like educational setbacks and the loss of parents and caregivers. Numerous reports have suggested that Americans drank more to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Binge drinking increased, as did emergency room visits for alcohol withdrawal. But the new report found that the number of alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, soared, rising to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 the previous year — an increase of 25 percent in the number of deaths in one year...“The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” said Aaron White, the report’s first author and a senior scientific adviser at the alcohol abuse institute. “Stress is the primary factor in relapse, and there is no question there was a big increase in self-reported stress, and big increases in anxiety and depression, and planet-wide uncertainty about what was coming next,” he said. “That’s a lot of pressure on people who are trying to maintain recovery.”

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Delayed treatment on other fronts (due to COVID restrictions or concerns) has also contributed to deaths and serious illness. One example

Millions missed cancer screenings during the pandemic, and unfortunately, that could be why there has been more stage four breast cancer diagnoses. The number of new advanced cases jumped up the first year of the pandemic from 1.9% to 6.2%, according to Jama Network Open...Since the pandemic started, millions have put off their yearly checks. In 2020 alone, more than 9.5 million Americans missed cancer screenings, according to the Biden Administration.

Meanwhile, one of the countries whose intensive mitigation strategies appeared to have worked at preventing huge virus waves over the last two years is currently getting absolutely slammed by a gigantic spike. A hyper-contagious variant has hit South Korea, and the resulting case explosion is breathtaking: 


"You can see how [South Korea's new spike] dwarfs the peak in cases that occurred in the US. A peak we considered so high and undwarfable," this doctor observes. South Korea has been massively outperforming the US overall on cases per capita throughout the entire pandemic, even with their extremely widespread testing regime. That longstanding advantage is now collapsing very quickly. Allahpundit contextualizes what's happening, noting the truly astounding case trajectory (flat for two years, then launched into the stratosphere) in South Korea, where masking compliance is something of a national religion: 

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From February 2020 all the way to January 2022 without a blip. South Korea was the proof that mass contagion by the coronavirus wasn’t inevitable, that it could be controlled by a population that took precautions diligently and by a government that was serious about using technology to facilitate contact tracing. The Koreans had beaten COVID. Then Omicron and its more infectious subvariant, BA.2, showed up. Look again at the Y-axis in the graph above and gape at the number of cases South Korea is suddenly recording. A country of 52 million people is averaging 400,000 per day lately, tantamount to around 2.5 million per day in the U.S. when adjusted for population. The peak of the actual U.S. Omicron wave this winter was an average of 800,000 per day. They’re doing three times as many cases per capita as we did at our peak....You can’t stop the ‘rona. You can’t even hope to contain it. That’s the lesson of South Korea’s outbreak.

The very good news for South Korea is that their brutal jolt of cases has not caused a corresponding tidal wave of deaths, even as deaths have gone up. Why? As AP aptly notes, South Korea is highly, highly vaccinated (86 percent fully vaxxed, and nearly 63 percent boosted) with Western-developed vaccines. And the COVID vaccines are extremely effective at keeping people who contract the virus out of the hospital and alive: 

At around 300 deaths per day, they’re experiencing the equivalent of 1800-1900 deaths in the U.S. — a heavy toll, for sure, but nothing Americans aren’t used to by now. In fact, the U.S. has seen peaks in deaths considerably higher than that. Last month we averaged 2,700 per day during the worst of the Omicron wave. A year earlier, during the winter wave of 2021, we topped 3,300 average deaths at one point.

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I'll leave you with the topic in my headline – a rather significant change to the CDC's official death toll among a group already known to be at minuscule risk of dying from Coronavirus: 

All-time pediatric deaths from COVID-19 reported on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker plummeted nearly 24% after the agency resolved a "coding logic error" on Wednesday. The CDC's COVID Data Tracker had presented a misleading impression prior to the fix that children were dying at a sharply amplified rate amid the omicron surge earlier this year. The tool had reported 1,755 all-time deaths from children ages 0 to 17 on Tuesday, with 738 of the deaths occurring during the first 10 weeks of 2022...After CDC resolved the error, the pediatric death figure reported on its COVID Data Tracker dropped to 1,339 all-time deaths, a reduction of 23.7% from the figure reported the day prior...CDC spokeswoman Jasmine Reed told the Washington Examiner the agency's algorithm was accidentally counting non-COVID-related deaths in the data tracker.

So the updated figure derails some fear-mongering stories about pediatric Omicron deaths. It also includes an unknown number of children who have died with, but not necessarily of, COVID. Every life lost is a tragedy, especially among children. Also, approximately 1,300 COVID-linked deaths among 73 million Americans under 18 is a microscopic fraction that just got smaller, due to the CDC "coding" adjustment. The restrictions we've placed on children are totally and completely incongruous with their risk profile (lower than already-rare homicides, car accidents, drownings, and some flu seasons). This has been very harmful. The CDC also reduced the total US COVID death count by more than 72,000, due to the same coding error correction: 

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The health agency, in a statement to Reuters, said it made adjustments to its COVID Data Tracker’s mortality data on March 14 because its algorithm was accidentally counting deaths that were not COVID-19-related. The adjustment resulted in removal of 72,277 deaths previously reported across 26 states, including 416 pediatric deaths, CDC said. The reduction cut the CDC’s estimate of deaths in children by 24% to 1,341 as of March 18. Children accounted for about 19% of all COVID-19 cases, but less than 0.26% of cases resulted in death...

Downward revisions are welcome, if belated, news. I'd love to know what precipitated the changes. 

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