What Do the CDC’s “Death with COVID” Statistics Mean?


There is much discussion about the CDC’s count, grouped by ICD-10 code, of “Conditions Contributing to Deaths where COVID-19 was listed on the death certificate.” What does it mean that only a fraction listed COVID-19 as the only condition contributing to death?

It is true that most death certificates have additional conditions listed. Also, there is a financial incentive to code for a COVID death whenever possible, say if there is a positive COVID test in a motorcycle crash victim.

Many of the COVID deaths listed conditions related to respiratory failure for instance. It is rational to assume that the respiratory failure in these cases was often likely as a result of COVID.

On the other hand, many COVID deaths are in elderly people who are at the upper limit of life expectancy, with many comorbidities. Their diabetes or lung disease or hypertension might have killed them. Was COVID just incidental, something that tipped them over the edge a month sooner, or the main reason they died now rather than two years from now?

One can’t figure this out without a look at each individual case. The ultimate answer is found at autopsy—rarely done these days. From a small series that was done in Germany, a surprising finding was that more than half had probably died from blood clots, small or large. Was this caused by the virus, or by the body’s response to the virus? It certainly showed the need to consider anticoagulation.

Lacking autopsies or even careful case reviews, we really do not know how many people died “with” COVID or “from” COVID.

One analyst, keeping a close eye on the statistics, estimates that around 30% of the COVID death figures died without an underlying condition contributing to the death.

The other huge unknown is the meaning of a positive test. Many labs in Florida reported an impossibly high rate (98–100 percent) of positive tests. But let’s assume we have competent, honest labs. More than 800,000 tests are being done every day. If we define every positive test as a “case,” massive numbers of new “cases” are guaranteed—most of whom will never get sick. The test may have picked up a fragment of a long-dead cold virus.

Given the heavy politicization, the corruption, and the unknowns in the constant barrage of statistics, the only reliable figure is the number of deaths. These are constantly decreasing (see graph below).

How about waiting for a vaccine? In 1957, the Asian flu, deadlier than the coronavirus, did not shut the country down. The late arrival of a scarce, 60% effective vaccine had no appreciable effect.

It is time to return to sanity. A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper shows that once a region reaches 25 total COVID deaths, the growth rate in deaths per day falls to approximately zero within a month—no matter what interventions such as lockdowns and mask mandates a country imposes.

For further information: “A Perspective on SARS-CoV-2, the Most Dangerous Virus in History”