Mexico City COVID Death Count Could Be Much Higher

Mexico COVID-19 deaths

Image via AP Photo/Fernando Llano

By Associated Press

May 20, 2020

A database diffused by an anti-corruption group reveals death certificates suggest there are more than three times the official death toll related to COVID-19, in the city.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A registry of death certificates in Mexico City suggests there were 4,577 cases where doctors mentioned coronavirus or COVID-19 as a possible or probable cause of death, more than three times the official death toll in the city.

The federal government acknowledges only 1,332 confirmed deaths in Mexico City since the pandemic began, less than a third as many as the investigation revealed.

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The additional 3,245 deaths in Mexico City, if they are confirmed or added to official counts, would push the national death toll from the 5,666 reported by federal officials Monday to 8,911. 

The 334 new deaths reported nationwide Tuesday was the second-highest single-day death toll so far, and the national increase in new cases — 2,713 — was the highest one-day rise to date. The number of deaths among medical personnel increased by one-third in the last week, reaching 149, more than half of the doctors. Medical personnel constitutes 11,394 infections, one-fifth of all cases nationwide.

But Mexico City, with 9 million residents, has been the hardest-hit area of the country, and where official death counts have been subject to the greatest questioning. 

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The anti-corruption group Mexicans Against Corruption said in a report Monday that it got access to a database of death certificates issued in Mexico City between March 18 and May 12. It showed that in explanatory notes attached to 4,577 death certificates, doctors included the words “SARS,” “COV2,” “COV,” “COVID 19,” or “new coronavirus.” 

The virus’s technical name is SARS-CoV-2. The notes the group counted included terms like “suspected,” “probable”, or “possible” role of the virus in the deaths. In 3,209 of the certificates, it was listed as a suspected contributing factor along with other causes of death, like pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, or multiple organ failure. 

Only 323 certificates list confirmed coronavirus as a cause of death; 1,045 other death certificates listed COVID-19 but didn’t specify if it was suspected or confirmed. 

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The group did not say how it accessed the database, which was kept by local courts. But it noted that official counts showed only 1,060 coronavirus deaths during that March 18-May 12 period. 

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has acknowledged there are more deaths than having officially been reported and has said a special team of epidemiologists will review the death figures. 

“What we are saying now is that in addition to those with a positive COVID test, are there more? Yes, there are more,” Sheinbaum said Tuesday. “When is that going to be made public? According to Mexican standards, this will definitely have to happen and there will be total transparency, but we have to comply with the standards concerning the review of the medical certificates.”

Mexico performs relatively few tests; only about 150,000 have been carried out so far in a nation of about 125 million people. Federal officials acknowledge some victims have died without being tested and have pledged that cases in which death certificates mention coronavirus as a possible or probable cause of death will eventually be added to the official death toll. But they have suggested those “suspected” cases were only about a tenth of test-confirmed deaths. 

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has reacted angrily to news reports in the past that claimed Mexico was undercounting its deaths on the federal level, and the anti-corruption group’s report was unlikely to please him. He has criticized the group in the past for allegedly opposing his policies and representing business interests. He has mockingly called it “Mexicans For Corruption.”

Sheinbaum repeated that mocking term Tuesday and claimed there were efforts to create a split between her administration and the federal government. Both she and López Obrador belong to the Morena party. 

The group’s founder is Claudio X. Gonzalez, a lawyer, activist and the son of a prominent business magnate.

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