Here's What Is Wrong With The 'I Don’t Trust The COVID-19 Death Count' Argument

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
Medical personnel move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck serving as make shift morgues at B...

Just the other day. I was chatting with a good friend over the phone. I mentioned how the US recently passed the grim milestone of 100k deaths from COVID-19. He decided to “school” me by saying, “What about all the hospitals that are being paid to mark deaths as COVID-19 even when they aren’t? Frankly, I don’t believe those numbers.”

I must have heard this same argument a million times from a million different people, many of them family and friends. I’ve seen it in the comments section on Facebook below credible news articles listing the deaths from a raging pandemic.

In fact, I have another good friend who is an ER doctor in Florida. He wrote this moving Facebook post on his personal page about holding the hands of dozens of people as they died from COVID in his hospital. He mentioned how difficult it was to be the only person to tell them goodbye as they died alone. I am not joking here — one rogue “truthsayer” had the audacity to question the validity of his post, and accused him of mislabeling COVID deaths in his own hospital.

I mean, wow! I was floored that we live in a time when people are so misled that they would question an ER doctor on the ground floor of a pandemic.

Drew Angerer/Getty

Let’s take a moment and explore this argument, because I really want to point out how ridiculous it is — and most of it comes down to numbers.

Here is the argument as I understand it. There are a number of people online claiming that COVID-19 cases and numbers are being inflated because hospitals can receive financial gain by listing a death as resulting from COVID-19, even if the real cause of death is something else. According to USA Today, “if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for – if they’re Medicare – typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000. But if it’s COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.”

So yes, there is some validity to this argument. And there are valid arguments showing that the COVID-19 death count is low because of a lack of available testing. So are the numbers accurate? That’s a good question, and obviously the death count can go both ways.

But ultimately, the “I don’t trust the death count” breaks down when you look at how shockingly large the death count is.

We can all agree that COVID-19 is a real virus, and it has killed real people. As of mid-June, on the day I am writing this sentence, the CDC is reporting nearly 120,000 COVID 19 deaths. Just to make the math easier, let’s scale that back and make it 100K deaths. Now let’s take a moment and think about how big of a number 100K is. Let’s look at this logically, and go with the argument that COVID-19 deaths are inflated.

U.S. Navy/Getty

Exactly how inflated would the COVID-19 death count need to be to make you sleep better at night? How about 50%? I mean, it seems very unlikely that half of COVID-19 deaths were mislabeled for the sake of financial gain on the behalf of hospitals, but what the heck. Let’s just pretend that 50% of the COVID-19 reported deaths were actually caused by something else, or they didn’t happen at all. That would still leave us with 50K Americans dead from COVID-19.

58,220 American troops died in the Vietnam War. Even at half, we are getting just shy of a major American conflict. On September 11th 2001, 19 men hijacked four fuel-loaded US commercial airplanes bound for west coast destinations. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We went to war over that attack. 50,000 Americans died in the Revolutionary War.

Listen, people. Really listen… COVID-19 has been with us for a matter of months. Even at half the number of reported deaths, 50K alone should give you pause.

Regardless of where you stand on the count being over or under, we are far past the point of using that as an argument to not take this virus seriously. Stop looking for excuses to avoid wearing a mask. Stop looking for reasons to keep hitting up the hair salon or to keep from regularly washing your hands, or to stay home when you are feeling ill. We will make it through this, I have no doubt. But many more lives will be lost along the way if we don’t stop squabbling over a death count that is too astronomically high to disregard.

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