As health experts develop statistics and models to track the impact of coronavirus on America, anyone who has the disease and dies will be counted as a COVID-19 death, regardless of what actually killed them.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, explained at Tuesday’s daily news briefing that not all countries are doing things the same way.
“I think in this country, we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality, and I think the reporting here has been pretty straightforward over the last five to six weeks,” Birx said.
“Prior to that, when there wasn’t testing in January and February, that’s a very different situation and unknown,” she added.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.”
Not so in the U.S., according to Birx.
“Right now, we’re still recording it, and the great thing about having forms that come in and a form that has the ability to mark it as COVID-19 infection, the intent is, right now — if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death,” she said.
Birx was asked if that approach might skew the data.
“I think that would apply more to rural areas that may not have the same level of testing,” she said.
“But I am pretty confident in New York City and in New Jersey and places that have these large outbreaks and COVID-only hospitals. I can tell you they are testing. New York and New Jersey together have — by proportion, are testing extraordinary well — as Washington state and Louisiana. So I don’t see that there’s been a barrier in testing to diagnosis.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current experience in hospitals is that it is the virus, not an underlying condition, that triggers what proves to be a fatal health emergency.
“I think there’s so much focus now on coronavirus that — particularly if you take New York, which we all know is having a disproportionately higher proportion of the burden of the entire country is right now in New York,” he said.
“I can’t imagine if someone comes in with coronavirus, goes to an ICU, and they have an underlying heart condition and they die, they’re going to say ’cause of death: heart attack.’ I cannot see that happening. So I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Although some said that way of counting could result in errors, Dr. Michael Baden, a Fox News contributor, said the federal approach makes sense.
“In the normal course, autopsies would then determine whether the person died of the effects of the COVID virus, whether the person had a brain tumor or brain hemorrhage for example that might be unrelated to it and what the relative significance of both the infection and the pre-existing disease is,” Baden told Fox.
He also noted that in the current pandemic, the number of autopsies could be low.
“Then you will include in those numbers some people who did have a pre-existing condition that would have caused death anyway, but that’s probably a small number,” Baden said.
UPDATE, Apr. 24, 2020: Three tweets have been deleted from this article. The tweets implied that counting COVID-19 deaths in the manner described was improper and could or would lead to incorrect statistics. There is no reason to believe that this is so, and none of the individuals whose tweets were embedded in the article are known to have any expertise in medical coding, virology, or any other relevant discipline, rendering them irrelevant (at best) and possibly confusing to readers.
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