A doctor who contributes medical articles to The Washington Post recently questioned whether reported numbers of COVID-19 deaths are factual.
WaPo contributer Dr. Leana Wen’s recently published opinion was headlined, “We are overcounting covid deaths and hospitalizations. That’s a problem.”
Wen’s opinion, published Friday, claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting about 400 deaths per day. That would extrapolate to nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths per year, which she argues is unlikely. The CDC data actually shows a weekly total of 3,907 deaths, not a daily death rate.
The point she makes, though, is valid and worthy of serious consideration.
She asks if the deaths reported to the CDC were people who died “fom covid or with covid.”
The Post medical contributor cites two infectious disease experts to support her theory that more deaths are being attributed to COVID-19 than the actual number of people who really died because of the coronavirus.
Her first expert cited is Robin Dretler, an attending physician at Emory Decatur Hospital and the former president of Georgia’s chapter of Infectious Diseases Society of America. Dr. Dretler estimates 90 percent of patients diagnosed with COVID at Emory are actually in the hospital for some other illness, she said.
“Since every hospitalized patient gets tested for COVID, many are incidentally positive,” he said.
A gunshot victim or someone who had a heart attack, Wen clarified, could test positive for the virus even though COVID-19 has no bearing on why they sought medical treatment.
She said Dretler treats patients with multiple concurrent infections.
“People who have very low white blood cell counts from chemotherapy might be admitted because of bacterial pneumonia or foot gangrene,” Dretler said. “They may also have COVID, but COVID is not the main reason why they’re so sick.”
COVID-19 may be added to the death certificate when patients like that die, along with their other diagnoses. Even though the coronavirus was not the primary cause of their death and may have played no role at all, the death may be added to the COVID-19 death count.
Another infectious-disease physician cited by Wen is Shira Doron, the Chief Infection Control Officer for Tufts Medical Center. She also serves as the hospital epidemiologist.
Earlier in the pandemic, most Covid positive hospitalizations were due to Covid, Dr. Doron said. As more people gained immunity through vaccination or infection, fewer patients were hospitalized because of COVID-19. Some days, Doron said, as few as 10percent of reported cases were actually hospitalized because of the coronavirus.
If the Covid death count turns out to be 30 percent of currently reported numbers, Wen said that’s still unacceptably high. Knowing the truth, though, could help people better evaluate risks of traveling, indoor dining and other public activities.
“Most importantly, knowing who exactly is dying from COVID can help us identify who is truly vulnerable,” Wen concluded. “These are the patients we need to protect through better vaccines and treatments.”
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