CDC All Cause Mortality Data Update

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I had put the brakes on COVID blogging, but today I’ll wade slightly back into that water because we’re finally beginning to see some clarity on the CDC all-cause mortality data. This is really the only truly accurate look at COVID deaths in existence right now, so it’s a big deal. Let’s dig in.

Why COVID Death Reporting Is an Absolute Mess

I’ve covered many different serious problems with how we classify deaths due to COVID-19. These are:

Despite all of this, COVID-19 is very real and is clearly causing excess deaths. That’s why the only accurate measure of COVID-19 deaths is looking at historical all-cause mortality data.

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All-Cause Mortality

Given that we’ve done an awful job in getting to verifiable COVID-19 death counts, the best we can do is to look at the history of who should have died and when and compare that to how many actually died during that time. This is called historical all-cause mortality. The reason why this data will be the most accurate is that while there are some assumptions, the end result is binary. Either someone died or they didn’t. We don’t have to classify any cause of any death.

I’ve been tracking CDC all-cause mortality data for months now. I download the excel spreadsheet file directly from the CDC and simply graph what they report. I did that below and what you see is that on any given week, long before COVID, about 50,000-60,000 people die in the United States. The grey line goes up in each winter and down in each summer. I graphed it this way so we can all see the real magnitude of COVID deaths.

COVID-19 starts right where I have drawn in the green and red. The largest winter peak of deaths before COVID was in 2017-2018, so I took that peak and transposed it over the COVID-19 time periods to the right. That’s the blue line that begins in the winter of 2019-2020 and that contains green. I have used green because we could have lost more people in that pre-COVID winter of 2019-2020 if the same number of deaths had happened as in the winter of 2017-2018. Where the red begins is where the actual deaths in the spring of 2020 begin to diverge from that 2017-2018 pattern. The first red peak is our first COVID-19 wave, the second is the summer of 2020 and the third is our “2nd wave” of this winter. Hence the red represents all of the COVID-19 deaths or “excess mortality”. This means more people are dying during these times than we would expect.

For those that believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, that’s not supported by the CDC all-cause death data. There are very real deaths here that clearly should not have happened. On the other hand, it’s critical to keep the number of COVID deaths in perspective.

Take for example the first wave black dashed line that I drew in. During the peak week of deaths during the first wave in April 2020, if we use that 2017-2018 number of deaths expected, there should be 55,000 deaths if COVID-19 didn’t exist. The actual death toll that week was 79,000 deaths. Hence, during that peak week of first wave April deaths, we saw 24,000 deaths that weren’t likely to happen. That was a 30% increase in deaths, which is pretty significant. Think about that for a second as it makes sense that some areas of the country were seeing health system overload.

On the other hand, you’ve probably heard in the media that the second wave deaths were worse, but the graph doesn’t show that. Why? Because every winter our deaths go up naturally without COVID-19. Hence, those expected increased deaths need to be backed out. So if you go to the second black dashed line which is the peak week of our second wave, we were expecting to see 60,000 deaths if COVID didn’t exist and instead we had 76,000 deaths. Hence that’s 16,000 more deaths than expected or a 21% increase. Again, nothing to sneeze at, but also not armageddon. For example, there are other times when there is only a 15% increase in expected deaths.

Why are worldwide COVID-19 cases and deaths (lagging 3 weeks behind) falling right now?  All deaths are expected to fall predictably once we get past mid-January. It happens every year. The fact that COVID deaths are following that track is good. It means that the things that likely cause that like increased sunlight and better Vitamin-D levels are working their magic on COVID-19. There could also be an effect of various lockdowns in the US as well as rising immunity and the beginning of vaccinations.

Keeping It All in Perspective

The graph above is important with its red and green areas under the curve because while it shows a serious pandemic that kicked up death numbers a good chunk, it also doesn’t fit the media narrative of absolute armageddon and societal collapse. So on the one hand this is a very real problem where vaccinations and other measures are needed to control it and return to normal. On the other, it’s also true that COVID-19 has been hugely hyped well beyond any reasonable assessment of reality.

The upshot?  The all-cause mortality shows a very real pandemic which is to be taken seriously and killed many people. However, it doesn’t show the hyped-up media version of COVID-19. So get vaccinated and follow your local guidelines on masks and social distancing and let’s end this thing!

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References:

(1) Jaafar R, et al. Correlation Between 3790 Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction–Positives Samples and Positive Cell Cultures, Including 1941 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Isolates, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa1491, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa1491

(2) Science. One number could help reveal how infectious a COVID-19 patient is. Should test results include it? https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/one-number-could-help-reveal-how-infectious-covid-19-patient-should-test-results Accessed 11/25/20

(3) World Health Organization. WHO Information Notice for IVD Users 2020/05-
Nucleic acid testing (NAT) technologies that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of SARS-CoV-2. Accessed 2/6/21 https://www.who.int/news/item/20-01-2021-who-information-notice-for-ivd-users-2020-05

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14 thoughts on “CDC All Cause Mortality Data Update

  1. Daniel Green

    Excellent balanced analysis Dr. C! Covid-19 is real and it is indeed a problem to be concerned about, but not the sensationalized situation the mainstream media is portraying!

  2. Glena

    Sorry but there are also deaths *from* the lockdown measures–so called “deaths of despair”, including from increased alcohol, and drug use, sudden poverty and homelessness, suicides (including among kids), domestic abuse, etc. So those have to be taken into account. It isn’t clear to me that ALL the excess deaths are “from” covid-19. Not when there are miles long lines for food banks and tent cities springing up everywhere.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      These deaths would be counted in the all-cause mortality numbers, so they are here in this analysis as well.

  3. Joe LaValle

    An analysis of CDC all-cause mortality data by the New York Times ——here’s the URL — https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/14/us/covid-19-death-toll.html
    shows excess deaths from March, 2020 thru mid-January 2021 at 471,000 – a number that is generally in line with the claimed Covid morality figures that are updated daily by Johns Hopkins and others — and suggests reported Covid deaths are not overstated. Also – using 2017/2018 as a baseline for comparison is problematic at the 2017/2018 flu season was the worst since 2009 and resulted in significantly more flu deaths than were typical.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Joe, that all depends on where you make guesses about where the baseline should be. The actual COVID+ deaths + Pneumonia number right now on the CDC website is actually 199K, see https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm On NYT and JH, they are WAY overestimating these deaths by choosing the lowest possible baseline to use.

  4. Kent Lester

    Interesting data, which I’m delighted to point out, matches up with your recent blog post on the blind men and the elephant. As a complexity theorist, the old Indian Elephant adage is one of my favorites. While I like the gist of your argument above, I might suggest that you’re probably underestimating the fatalities from Covid somewhat. Why? Because Covid has caused behavior modifications among the populace, thus lowering fatality rates from other causes. (reduced influenza, for instance) Or even less auto deaths due to reduced driving. With other deaths reduced, that means Covid is a larger share of total deaths than might be evident in prior years. This is what I call “global thinking.” Very much related to the Elephant adage. Great articles, though.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      That’s a valid point Kent. But again, it all comes out in the wash in this all-cause mortality data. Meaning we know approximately how many people should have died. COVID makes that worse and changing behavior makes it better, but we’re still down to the same idea, how many people should have died versus how many died. You could say that the proportions of COVID deaths are likely more than is being portrayed here because the other causes of death are being pushed down, but in practical reality, it doesn’t make a difference in the end because x people still died.

  5. Russ Delaney

    Dr.Centeno
    In today’s blog you say, “For those that believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, that’s not supported by the CDC all-cause death data.”

    People dying of Covid even if determined to be the actual cause of death is not the only criteria we should be using to use the word hoax. A hoax can be played out in many ways. In the blog you enumerated the various ways the statistics given to the public as Covid deaths were actually inaccurate. They were listed as “Attribution issues” , “PCR False Positives “, and the “COVID-19 diagnosis Payment Kicker”. Shouldn’t we ask the question “Why” when it comes to attributing a death to Covid when it really wasn’t? What about motive. What motivates the authorities to purposely distort numbers that would inflate the actual deaths attributable to Covid? Yes. people died of Covid. I’m not disputing that. Why exaggerate the numbers to make the problem appear worse than it is. Why the payment kicker? What would be the legitimate motive for doing that? It was well known that the PCR test was inaccurate. Why would the authorities give out these numbers to the public when they are obviously misleading them? Shouldn’t we be asking that question? Why was the response to close all these businesses down and shutdown a global economy? You give the benefit of the doubt to the vaccine creators for their integrity and are encouraging us to take the vaccine. That’s because you trust the science that they have given you. If they knew science well enough to create a vaccine that you trust then you must believe these same men of science knew their numbers on Covid deaths were inaccurate. I don’t trust liars and distorters. And yes, there is a lot about this whole story that appears to be a hoax to me. It certainly isn’t honest. Just because people actually died of Covid doesn’t justify everything else that is being imposed on the world. We have no idea what else these supposed scientists and men of integrity have planned for us. Honestly, do you really believe we are going to return to normal after we get the vaccine? What about the new strains and mutations they are talking about? My personal opinion is the word Hoax is perfectly appropriate. I’m not afraid to use the word conspiracy. Human beings have been conspiring to manipulate others since the beginning of recorded history. We just haven’t clarified the real reasons yet for this Hoax.

  6. Glena

    “These deaths would be counted in the all-cause mortality numbers, so they are here in this analysis as well.”

    my point exactly. Not all the excess mortality is covid.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      That’s probably true given that the lockdowns themselves likely contributed to an increase in deaths in certain categories.

  7. David

    Hey Dr. C, I respect your looking directly at the CDC data and doing your own analysis, but you are missing a key point:
    This data includes young people who have had almost NO excess deaths!
    If you dig deeper in the CDC site and look at the data for age 65 and over, the max percent excess deaths in a week is between 50% and 60% in Dec 2020. I’m not sure what qualifies as “armageddon,” as you say, but given 50-60% excess deaths in a large subpopulation, the “hype” was not really a media fabrication. Indeed, you are downplaying the severity of the pandemic by washing out the danger by including the young who are barely at risk.
    And by the way, the data you are using is old/incomplete. The current CDC data is showing the Dec peak slightly higher than the April peak at just over 80k total deaths, and both peaks having almost identical max percentage excess death weeks at 35% in April and 34% in Dec – and again that is for the ENTIRE population including kids and young adults who almost never die from COVID.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      David, I will pull that “older” age data and look at it on another blog post. However, many more older people die than younger people, so the younger people will never be represented the same way as older people in all-cause mortality data. Another way to say that is that most of the all-cause deaths will be old. Hence, I would doubt the numbers are as high above baseline as you’re quoting unless you artificially depress the baseline.
      On the data changing, it changes every week. It takes 2-3 months to see old data reported at every time point.

  8. Kent Lester

    If I may, I’d like to address Russ Delaney’s post on hoaxes. As an complexity theorist, I see the source of many conspiracy theories coming from people’s underestimation of the role randomness plays in our world. If you believe everything is planned, or we that all have total control over our lives, then any tragedy must the be the result of someone’s nefarious intent. The truth most often is that randomness, bad luck, and lack of preparation are the true sources of most of our problems. Sometimes s**t happens. You ask what would “motivate” an authority to misquote numbers. Why do you think anyone has a motivation or a “plan?” Inaccurate numbers are more likely the result of imperfect reporting systems, accuracy limitations of certain tests, imperfect adherence to the rules of reporting, legacy Medicare rules that accidentally benefit Covid reporting, etc. No conspiracy necessary. It’s just the inherent imperfectness of humans and the complex systems they create. If a plumber does a bad job of unplugging your drain, do you then start asking yourself, “why are plumbers intentionally conspiring to allow a buildup of crap in our homes?” I think not. People’s anger at wearing masks and closing businesses is understandable, but it doesn’t take some coordinated conspiracy to understand why. We do these things because they are the only options available to prevent deaths in a system that had imperfect preparation for the possibility of a global pandemic. I’m an author who writes thrillers about pandemics. Dark conspiracies are my bread and butter, because they make for good entertainment. But I also add a disclaimer to my book by calling it a “novel” so that people realize it’s fiction. We do ourselves a disservice when we start seeing conspiracies around every corner, and puppet masters pulling the strings of every unfortunate event that randomly occurs in nature. I’m from Atlanta, and have been hanging around epidemiologists from the CDC for years. They’ve all been talking about the “big one” for two decades. They’re surprised we’ve gone this long without a global pandemic, when you consider the planet’s rate of international air travel. The “conspiracy” if there ever was one, happened when our politicians chose not to spend the money to prepare for the big one, years ago.

    One last thing. Conspiracies do exist, but not nearly in the number many people guesstimate. We all need to develop a finer, more precise appreciation for the power of randomness, if we are to discern the true conspiracies from the fake ones.

  9. Russ Delaney

    I’d like to comment on Kent’s response to my original post concerning use of the word “Hoax” in describing the Covid-19 outbreak and the events that followed.

    Kent, I’m glad you did say that conspiracies exist. The last sentence in my post said, “We just haven’t clarified the real reasons yet for this Hoax.” What I am suggesting is we need to be open to the idea that one may exist in this case, and that we don’t know for sure, yet. The stakes for society are very high as a result of what happened and we should be open to all possibilities. Passive obedience and trusting politicians is not a philosophy I endorse. Not seeing conspiracies that DO exist can be just as harmful as imagining ones that DON’T. I noticed it’s very trendy these days to minimize the curiosity of those that might ask questions suggesting a conspiracy of any kind. They describe them as “conspiracy nuts”. They used to say the same thing about people that shopped in health food stores. They were labelled as “health nuts”. If you don’t like the message you try to discredit the messenger. Since most people have difficulty changing their lifestyles and becoming healthier they needed to discredit people who make those healthy changes as “Nuts”. We could talk about the phenomenon common to humans that causes them to look the other way or cognitively disconnect from issues that make them feel uncomfortable. It must be tough for some people to stand by and say nothing when someone dares to question the status quo’s official dictates concerning Covid-19. There’s this need to diminish those people with the word “nut” as a way of discrediting them and hopefully discourage them from any further threats to the established “Group Think”. I remember when “Weapons of mass destruction” was used as a justification for going to war in the Middle East. When none were found we all wondered how so many of us could have gone along with the official narrative and the following act of war based on a false premise. I personally am very suspicious of what the officials are telling us regarding the so-called Pandemic. I think we should be asking lots of questions.

    I’m sure you know the story about the Emmy Award winning NY Governor Mario Cuomo who just happen to conspire to fudge the numbers on Covid deaths. His own staff has admitted to this deed. Kent, would you characterize his actions as a random event? I’m sure it must have been difficult for those people who questioned the numbers Cuomo originally issued. They were probably labelled as “Nuts” to even allege such a thing.

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