Fact Check: The CDC Does NOT Count Pneumonia And Seasonal Flu In The COVID-19 Toll

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: The CDC Does NOT Count Pneumonia And Seasonal Flu In The COVID-19 Toll Still Not True

Did the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just cut the COVID-19 tally from 90,000 to 11,000 in Florida to correct accidental inclusion of pneumonia and seasonal flu? No, the claim was made with no facts or sources to back it up and is similar to claims already debunked by AFP Fact Check. The data charts on the CDC website show no such down-spike at any point since the pandemic started.

The chief of the mortality statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics, Robert Anderson, Ph.D., says seasonal flu and pneumonia are not added to COVID-19 statistics and there has been no 88% reduction or correction to either of the two streams of COVID-19 statistics collected by the 50 states: neither death certificates nor case surveillance reports.

The claim appeared in a tweet published on Twitter on July 21, 2020, on the account of "DeAnna4Congress" (archived here) which opened:

"So now that Trump has said hospitals need to report numbers to WH instead of the CDC, the CDC just came out & said they made another "mistake" in FL; And they've also been counting Pneumonia & Flu as Covid-- dropping their # from approx 90,000 to 11,000. So many "mistakes," huh?"

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Fri Jul 24 22:37:13 2020 UTC)

"Deanna4Congress" is the Twitter account of Deanna Lorraine, who came in fifth, with less than 2% of the vote, in the March, 3 2020 runoff for California's 12th Congressional District, according to Ballotpedia. The July 21, 2020, tweet Lead Stories is fact-checking in this article appeared as part of a several-day Twitter sales campaign for Deanna Lorraine's book, "Taking Back America," which was released for sale July 23, 2020.

Also in her stream of Tweets were debunked claims that a Florida man killed in a motorcycle accident was added to Florida's COVID-19 death toll.

Here's the July 24 version of the chart of COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC since the start of the pandemic, showing no sudden downward adjustment:

Total US Cases Trend.CDC.JPG

Contacted July 24 by Lead Stories, Robert Anderson of the CDC's Mortality Statistics Branch, said a death is added to the COVID-19 tally when COVID-19 is reported on the death certificate.

Another of the claims in Deanna Lorraine's July 21 tweet -- that pneumonia and seasonal flu are being added to inflate the COVID-19 death toll -- has been debunked by AFP Fact Check and by USA Today, when conservative film-maker Dinesh D'Souza tweeted it out May 2, 2020

Anderson told Lead Stories that D'Souza's claim of inflated COVID-19 statistics was based on a failure to read the notes on the CDC's website. D'Souza failed to understand there is a lag-time between public health officials' case surveillance reports, which are updated daily into a provisional tally, and the slower but more precise death certificates tally, which takes at least two weeks longer, since death certificates are a binding legal document signed by a coroner, medical examiner or doctor. The explanation is available to the public here on the CDC website.

There's a reason for the two systems. The daily provisional account helps pandemic fighters map the spread and severity of the pandemic, so that quarantines and resources can be applied where they are most needed. States submit to the CDC a daily "provisional" tally of disease case surveillance reports from public health districts.

States also collect and submit the death certificates signed by coroners and medical examiners, which usually lag disease surveillance stats by two weeks. Anderson said the difference between the two tallies is never more than "a handful" of deaths. He said some death certificates are amended based on new tests or information. And he said public health surveillance reports are sometimes corrected by the subsequent death certificate.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Dean Miller

Lead Stories Managing Editor Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy for six years, then as Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. Most recently, he wrote the twice-weekly "Save the Free Press" column for The Seattle Times. 

Read more about or contact Dean Miller

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