Thousands of Americans who died due to COVID-19 had a range of “adverse events” listed on death certificates that seem far-removed from the disease like “contact with venomous animals and plants” and “air and space transport accidents,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency’s most recent provisional death count figures, updated on Aug. 12 and covering from Aug. 8 all the way back to the first known cases of the CCP virus in the United States, show a total of 145,378 COVID-19 deaths.
With respect to 6 percent of these fatalities, COVID-19 is the only cause mentioned. The CDC bases its classification on information contained in death certificates.
“For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death,” the agency said in an explanatory note.
In its report, the CDC also provides a list of health conditions and contributing causes mentioned on death certificates in conjunction with deaths involving COVID-19. Also known as comorbidities, the contributing factors or conditions include a category called “intentional and unintentional injury, poisoning and other adverse events.” They were cited in 4,401 cases, or around 3 percent, of the total COVID-19 deaths.
The agency uses International Classification of Diseases codes to specify comorbidities, which include code X72, “Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge,” code T63, “Toxic effect of contact with venomous animals,” and code V95, “Helicopter accident injuring occupant.”
“From looking at some of these records, it seems that these are largely cases where someone hospitalized with a non-fatal injury has contracted COVID19 while in the hospital and subsequently died,” Jeff Lancashire, a spokesman for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told Just the News.
A CDC-endorsed instructional document (pdf) guides medical professionals on how to determine whether a factor in a COVID-19 death should go in Part I of the certificate, which is the direct cause of death, or in Part II, which calls for “other significant conditions contributing to death but not resulting in the underlying cause.” The underlying cause of death, or UCOD, is defined as the disease or injury that initiated the events resulting in death.
“If COVID–19 played a role in the death, this condition should be specified on the death certificate,” the guidance states. “In many cases, it is likely that it will be the UCOD, as it can lead to various life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
The guidance states that, “In cases where a definite diagnosis of COVID–19 cannot be made, but it is suspected or likely (e.g., the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate as “probable” or “presumed.” In these instances, certifiers should use their best clinical judgement in determining if a COVID–19 infection was likely.”
Some have argued that the death counts may be inflated because of a generous definition of a COVID-19 fatality.
In April, White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx told a press conference that in the United States, “we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality,” adding, “There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the I.C.U., and then have a heart or kidney problem—some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.”
Some public health experts insist America’s true COVID-19 death toll is undercounted because statistics don’t capture people dying at their houses or in nursing homes without ever being tested.
Dr. Alicia Skarimbas, a physician in New Jersey who has treated numerous COVID-19 patients, told the New York Times in May that, especially in the early days of the pandemic, some of her colleagues might list the cause of death as “respiratory failure” in patients believed to be sick with COVID-19 but who were not tested for the virus.
“I have yet to have anyone infected with COVID die from anything else,” she said in a separate interview, arguing that it is “ludicrous” to try and separate out the cause of death in COVID-19 patients.
A recent pre-print study not yet peer-reviewed, published in MedRxiv, examined the role of comorbidities in COVID-19 positive patients and found that “causes of death were directly related to COVID-19 in the majority of decedents, while they appear not to be an immediate result of preexisting health conditions and comorbidities.” These findings speak in support of COVID-19 as a decisive factor in the death of people with pre-existing chronic health conditions.
Meanwhile, the United States on Wednesday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 death toll since May, with nearly 1,500 COVID-19 deaths across the nation.
Wednesday’s announcement pushed the country’s total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 166,027.