Image via Shutterstock Is the Trump White House pushing to alter the way COVID-19 deaths are counted?
Image via Shutterstock

Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s response coordinator, in urging the CDC to exclude two categories from its death toll.

President Donald Trump and members of the White House’s coronavirus task force are putting pressure on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to influence the way it tallies COVID-19 fatalities, the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday. 

Five unnamed administration officials working on the government’s coronavirus response said that the president –who has previously stated that more COVID-19 testing “makes us look bad”– is pushing for “a new methodology that could lead to a lower US death toll,” according to the report.

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Worried that the criteria for counting coronavirus fatalities is so broad that it could include people who died from other causes, Trump aligned with Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s response coordinator, in urging the CDC to exclude two categories from its death toll: people who died without confirmed test results, and those who had the virus but may have died from other causes, such as “falling down the stairs.” 

Brix expressed doubt about the veracity of the CDC’s numbers, going so far as to say that they could be inflated by as much as 25%.

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, believes that the opposite holds true: that the number of coravirus related deaths is being undercounted.

Asked before the senate on Tuesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) if, as some epidemiologists suggest, the number of fatalities could be as much as 50% higher than is being reported, Dr. Fauci replied that although he is not sure that the tally is 50% higher, “most of us feel that the number of deaths is likely higher than that number.”

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Bob Anderson, the CDC’s mortality-statistics chief, agreed with Dr. Fauci’s assessment, telling the Daily Beast that “we’re almost certainly underestimating the number of deaths.”

One of the reasons for the lower count, said Fauci during his Senate statement, is that there may have been people who died at home who did have COVID-19, but were not counted as having died from the illness “because they never really got to the hospital.”

According to Dr. Fauci, coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are being undercounted.

As of May 13, the US has reported 84,119 total coronavirus deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The importance of accurately reporting the number of confirmed positive cases of coronavirus and COVID-19 deaths becomes apparent when taking into account that it may influence a county or state’s containment measures, such as issuing stay-at-home orders and implementing social distancing rules, as well as determining when it is safe to reopen schools and businesses. 

Generally, Democratic governors have been more cautious about taking those steps, especially without more testing, while Republican governors, while expressing caution, have been more intent on a return to “normalcy,” or business as usual.

But according to Dr. Fauci, any move to reopen or relax safety measures needs to be done following  “the guidelines which have been very well thought out and delineated,” as failure to do so could have “serious consequences.”