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Fact or Fiction: Social media posts claim COVID-19 death toll is wrong

Published: Sep. 4, 2020 at 7:39 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - This week, the phrase “Only 6%” started trending across American social media, referring to CDC data that shows 94% people who died from COVID-19 also had other conditions.

Some are suggesting that means the coronavirus death toll is wrong. But experts, including a Lowcountry doctor, says that is simply not true.

Sept. 2 data from the CDC shows 170,566 deaths involving COVID 19 nationwide. It also says, “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”

That means in 94% of COVID deaths, patients had an underlying disease, listed as a comorbidity. In fact, “on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death,” the CDC reported.

“It’s something we’re clearly seeing in practice,” infectious disease Dr. Kent Stock said. He says they’ve admitted more than 800 COVID-19 patients to Roper St Francis Hospital.

“The vast majority do have comorbid conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. so it underscores what we already know,” he said. That is while anyone is at risk for catching the virus, if you go into it with certain underlying diseases you have a higher chance for a worse outcome.

“I think some of the misleading element of it is there’s some insinuation that these people are not dying of COVID. That they’re dying of their underlying diseases. And that’s simply not the case,” Stock said.

He explained that the immediate cause of death may be heart attack or respiratory failure, but he says the COVID infection is the primary reason they’re dying at all.

“So that’s some of the misleading element that is leading to a lot of tweets and things from various personalities across the country, trying to diminish the severity of the infection and, unfortunately in an awkward attempt, reassure the general population they’re not at risk which unfortunately is a bad message,” he said.

He is encouraged that South Carolina case numbers have improved and believes the public is taking the virus more seriously.

He hopes mask-wearing, distancing and careful practices continue this holiday weekend, too.

“I hope we don’t take out foot off the gas pedal,” Stock said. “Have fun but be responsible. Wear your mask when you’re in a public setting and obviously do the other things that we know can decrease transmission and save lives.”

Stock says Roper numbers show 1 in 10 admitted to the hospital with COVID is likely to die.

70% of those patients who go on a ventilator don’t leave the hospital alive.

He said their numbers are actually better than nationwide statistics.

One recent study he referenced showed only 27% of ventilated COVID-19 patients survive.

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