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ANALYSIS HEALTH/SCI/TECH

Why Global Coronavirus Death Rates Could Be Higher Than the Official Figures

U.S. Army Spc. Reagan Long, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 827th Engineer Company, 204th Engineering Battalion, 53rd Troop Command, New York Army National Guard, alongside Pfc. Naomi Velez, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 152nd Engineer Support Company, 42nd Infantry Division, register people at a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle, Mar. 14, 2020. Members of the Army and Air National Guard from across several states have been activated under Operation COVID-19 to support federal, state and local efforts. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Amouris Coss)
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Citizen Truth.)

Discrepancies in different country’s official death counts relate to decisions as to whether to include deaths that are not directly caused by COVID-19 in the official figures.

As of May 1st, COVID-19 has infected more than 3,257,520 and claimed 233,405 lives globally. However, the real death figures could be higher than the official numbers reported, some studies stated.

 

Deaths Not Directly Caused By COVID-19

 

The Washington Post, in partnership with the Yale School of Public Health, revealed that the numbers of death from March 1 to April 4 could be 15,400 more than the official figures reported by government institutions at that time (8,128).

 

Discrepancies in the official death count also relate to decisions as to whether to include pandemic-related deaths that are not directly caused by COVID-19 in the official figures.

 

“The excess deaths are not necessarily attributable directly to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They could include people who died because of the epidemic but not from the disease, such as those who were afraid to seek medical treatment for unrelated illnesses, as well as some number of deaths that are part of the ordinary variation in the death rate. The count is also affected by increases or decreases in other categories of deaths, such as suicides, homicides and motor vehicle accidents,” the study said.

 

Senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, Marc Joffe, told Citizen Truth that he believes the definitions of COVID-19 deaths should be revised:

 

“Some revisions have to do with changing definitions of COVID-19 death. If a patient dies of a stroke or a heart attack while also being infected by the coronavirus, the cause of death is a judgment call. Some jurisdictions, like New York City, have reclassified deaths. Medical examiners may have initially categorized the death as one caused by something other than COVID-19 but change that decision later. My concern is that these reclassifications may be driven by political or financial reasons, and may not reflect the best, objective medical judgment. Someone may have the virus, not experience serious symptoms from it and coincidentally die for another reason.”

 

Official Figures Come From Hospitals

 

The Yale study claimed that the official numbers came from hospitals, excluding those who died at home if they never get tested for COVID-19. They could die from other illnesses such as heart attack even though the COVID-19 worsened their health conditions.

 

Natalie Dean, a biostatistics professor at the University of Florida, told Vox :“People who die at home are least likely to be counted, particularly since we are seeing some people dying of pulmonary embolism or other clotting, adding that it is difficult to tell whether the COVID-19 is the main cause of their deaths unless there are postmortem testings.

 

Belgium’s Testing Method

 

Despite having a lower death count than the U.S or Italy, Belgium has the highest mortality rate per 100,000 people (57 in 100,000 die from new coronavirus).

 

Pssst, while you're here...

Belgium included those who died at home and with COVID-19-related symptoms. On April 15, the official source revealed that half the COVID-19 death numbers occurred in care homes, as cited in The Guardian.

 

In Italy, death rates included those tested positive for COVID-19, excluding whether the cause of death is COVID-19 illness or other conditions. Spain only counted those who died in hospitals.

 

Some virologists and officials have criticized Belgium’s counting method for exaggerating and hurting the country’s reputation, while supporters of the method argue that it is more transparent and other countries are underreporting deaths.

 

Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has reiterated her commitment to being fully transparent in reporting COVID-19-related deaths, but criticized aspects of the counting method, arguing that “not all residents of nursing homes died because of the coronavirus,” as per Politico.

 

Deaths from COVID-19-Related Symptoms

 

A Reuters exclusive report stated that more than 2,200 Indonesians have died from COVID-19-like symptoms, but they were not confirmed as COVID-19 patients, citing data from the country’s 16 out of 34 provinces.

 

COVID-19 has similar symptoms with flu, such as sore throat, cough, and fever. However, many people have caught new coronavirus even though they have no symptoms, as massive testing is still limited.

 

It means that many people may have contracted COVID-19, but they were not aware of it as they have yet to receive testings.

 

“I’ve got to say; we are so far away from having enough widespread testing I’ve not even heard that question asked yet, so that’s a great one,” Prof.Shandy Dearth, an epidemiologist from Indiana University explained in the expert panel hosted by Newswise, said on Thursday. “I would say we might get to the point where we’ve got a vaccine before we have enough tests for everyone and even if you’ve already had it if you were to be vaccinated, there is not harm in being vaccinated for a disease that you’ve already had in the past. I would think that they’ll not give up on testing but they won’t necessarily recommend testing before you get a vaccine would be my guess but again, I have not been a part of those conversations.”

 

Joffe also highlighted the numbers of asymptomatic cases, adding that different regions may test more often than others:

 

“Different jurisdictions have different criteria for testing so positive case totals vary simply because of some test more frequently than others. Thus the number of positive test results is NOT a good metric for cross-jurisdictional comparisons. Antibody tests in New York, Santa Clara County and Los Angeles suggest that the virus is very widely spread and that there are very large numbers of asymptomatic cases. As a result, the infection/fatality rate is really quite low – perhaps 0.2% or less. This is very different than the 3.4% WHO initially reported.”

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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