CDC All Cause Mortality Data Update
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:
- Attribution issues – For example, died with a positive COVID-19 test is starkly different than died because of COVID-19. This likely inflates our COVID death reporting by about 25%.
- PCR False Positives – We’re running PCR tests way too many cycles, causing ridiculously high false-positive rates. Meaning our PCR tests are picking up as COVID-19 positive patients who don’t have any live virus in their body, but who have a few strands of dead virus DNA in their nostrils. This was recently called out in medical journals and the WHO as a very real problem (1-3).
- COVID-19 diagnosis Payment Kicker – All hospitals are getting a significant Medicare bonus by having a COVID-19 diagnosis on the chart.
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.Request a Regenexx Appointment
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!
(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