Fact Check: COVID-19 Death Toll Does NOT Count Everyone Who Dies With The Virus -- Deaths From Other Causes Are Not Included

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: COVID-19 Death Toll Does NOT Count Everyone Who Dies With The Virus -- Deaths From Other Causes Are Not Included Doesn't Count

Is every death of people with COVID-19 counted as a COVID death? No, that's not true: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says COVID-19 should not be reported on the death certificate if it did not cause or contribute to the death -- in other words, if a person with COVID died in an accident, that would not be counted as a COVID death.

Since early in the pandemic, conspiracy theorists have claimed the COVID toll is being padded by overcounting deaths in cases where the disease played little to no role. The latest play on the theme appeared in an Instagram post (archived here) on October 23, 2021, that said:

We should count Vaccine Deaths the same way we count Covid deaths; if they Die Vaccinated, it counts as a Vaccine Death, even if they got hit by a car.

This is what the post looked like on Instagram on October 23, 2021:


(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Oct 27 14:19:36 UTC 2021)

The post's clear implication is that deaths are included in the COVID toll if the deceased had the virus, whether or not that illness led to the death.

The CDC has specific guidelines on its website for the doctors, medical examiners or coroners who fill out death certificates:

Certifiers are asked to use their best medical judgment based on the available information and their expertise. When a definitive diagnosis cannot be made, but the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty, certifiers may include the terms 'probable' or 'presumed' in the cause-of-death statement.

The CDC says the quality of cause-of-death data depends on death certificates being complete and accurate:

When COVID-19 is reported as a cause of death on the death certificate, it is coded and counted as a death due to COVID-19. COVID-19 should not be reported on the death certificate if it did not cause or contribute to the death.

The CDC admits its data isn't perfect, but still considers it useful:

Current estimates are that about 20-30% of death certificates have issues with completeness. This does not mean they are inaccurate. However, higher quality information can give us an even better picture of what is happening.

Lead Stories has debunked various claims concerning death tolls for COVID. Those have included a claim that anyone who died within 20 days of a positive COVID test was added to the death toll, here; and that the CDC was including deaths from pneumonia and seasonal flu among COVID deaths, here.

An observational study published July 1, 2020, in JAMA Internal Medicine said about 30% of COVID deaths during the first three months of the pandemic may not have been classified as such. The study analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics:

jama Cropped.jpg

(Source: JAMA Internal Medicine screenshot taken on Wed Oct 25 16:43:16 2021 UTC)

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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.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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