Why The CDC's Latest COVID-19 Stats Are Causing A Stir

The total number of Americans who have died after being infected with COVID-19 continues to climb, with the toll hitting over 160,000 as of an August 26 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One statistic from this report has stirred up controversy: the number of mortalities that were due only to coronavirus, with no other health conditions listed on the death certificate. This number is 6 percent of that total, with 94 percent of people also having other conditions at the time of their death, such as respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, and renal failure — as well as other health problems like obesity and diabetes.  

Members of the political group QAnon have cast this statistic as evidence that "only 6 percent" of the deaths the CDC is reporting was actually due to coronavirus — in other words, they would have died anyway, since they contracted this illness after already being unhealthy in some shape or form. President Donald Trump retweeted one such post to his 95 million followers, and Twitter later removed it because it violated community rules (via CNN).

What President Trump's controversial retweet said

The tweet that President Trump shared was from a user who goes by the name "Mel Q," and she appears to be a member of QAnon (per Forbes). A saved screenshot of his retweet shows a link to the CDC report and the caption: "This week the CDC quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6 percent of all the 153,504 deaths recorded actually died from Covid. That's 9,210 deaths...the other 94 percent had 2-3 other serious illnesses & the overwhelming majority were of very advanced age."

This tweet has come under attack because many of the people who had other pre-existing conditions would not have died if they did not contract coronavirus; obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and high blood pressure are all illnesses that many people will live with for many years, CNN pointed out. They didn't die because they were overweight — they died because they contracted coronavirus. In fact, the CDC lists these and other conditions as risk factors for fatal COVID-19 outcomes, so it's not a surprise. 

Orthopedic spine surgeon Carrie Diulus attacked the "only 6 percent" logic on Twitter, with a bear attack standing in for coronavirus. "I have Type 1 diabetes. I am healthy enough to run ultramarathons. If I get attacked by a bear & the ICU has trouble managing my blood sugar while caring for my bear attack wounds...and I die... the bear is the cause of my death," she wrote. "Thanks for coming to my TED talk. #COVID19."