Do only unhealthy people die from COVID-19? No, that's not true: The person posting the statement "Healthy people don't die from COVID" on social media doesn't explain what they meant by healthy, but people of all ages and a wide range of medical conditions have died from the virus. Age appears to be a greater indicator of risk, with more than 74% of U.S. COVID deaths coming in the 65-and-over age group since the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The claim appeared as the third item in an Instagram video published on April 7, 2022. It opened:
3 TIMES 'CONSPIRACY THEORISTS' WERE RIGHT...
1. HUNTER BIDEN'S LAPTOP IS REAL.
2. BEE EL EMM WAS NOT CREATED TO HELP BLACK PEOPLE.
3. HEALTHY PEOPLE DON'T DIE FROM COVID.
This is what the post looked like on Instagram on April 13, 2022:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Apr 13 16:30:10 2022 UTC)
For the purposes of this fact check, Lead Stories is only exploring claim No. 3 in the video.
As of the week ending April 9, 2022, the CDC put the total number of U.S. COVID deaths at 987,647, based on death certificate data:
In at least 90% of these deaths, COVID-19 was listed as the underlying cause of death. For the remaining deaths, COVID-19 was listed as a contributing cause of death.
In the "Death By Age Group" section on the same CDC webpage, this is the breakdown over the course of the pandemic:
- 74.4% - 65-and-over age group
- 21.4% - 45-64 age group
- 4.2% - Under 45 age group
And these were the most common comorbidities listed with COVID-19 deaths, according to the CDC:
- 48.8% - Influenza & Pneumonia
- 18.2% - Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- 15.0% - Diabetes
- 10.5% - Alzheimer's disease and other dementias
- 9.9% - Sepsis
There's more to it than numbers
The Yale Medicine website, in an article published on February 2, 2022, said the CDC figures provide important clues but don't tell the whole story about the disease and who's most at risk:
According to the CDC, reported COVID-19 illnesses have ranged from mild (with no reported symptoms in some cases) to severe to the point of requiring hospitalization, intensive care, and/or a ventilator. COVID-19 illnesses can also lead to death. While people of all ages can be infected, the risk for complications increases with age. People living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and people of all ages with underlying health conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and obesity) also are at high risk for serious illness.
COVID-19 also has led to serious illness and even death in younger and middle-aged adults who are otherwise healthy. While most children have mild or no symptoms, some have gotten severely ill.
There are no guarantees
While the statistics show risk increases with age and certain comorbidities, a Columbia University study says the same risk factors don't always produce identical results in COVID patients. Dr. Soojin Park is the study's senior author and an associate professor of neurology at Columbia University. In a November 11, 2021, article published to the school's website, she said:
Having certain high or low risk conditions does not guarantee a certain outcome. ... Rather, this highlights that healthy patients can still have poor COVID outcomes and patients with numerous chronic diseases can still have good outcomes.
Dr. Benjamin Ranar, the study's first author and a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Columbia, said in the same article that being young and in good health provides no assurances:
Given the risk of poor outcome in a group of patients who were previously quite healthy, vaccination remains essential for everyone.
In an April 14, 2022, email to Lead Stories, Dr. John T. Brooks. senior science advisor, CDC Emergency COVID-19 Response, said:
If you are in perfect health, you have a better chance of surviving COVID; but it could still potentially be fatal. The best way to ensure you are as protected as you can be against COVID is to get vaccinated, keep your vaccination status up to date, and use other everyday precautions to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID. Vaccination and other measures give you the best fighting chance to very significantly reduce the likelihood you will get infected; and that if you get infected, that you will have the lowest possible chances of becoming seriously ill or dying.
And in an April 13, 2022, email to Lead Stories, Jeff Lancashire, a public affairs officer with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said:
We have no way to determine via the death certificates whether someone is 'healthy' before they die.
Lead Stories previously debunked similar stories on COVID deaths (here, here and here).