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Reported Number Of COVID-19 Deaths Prompt Debate Over Accuracy

New questions emerged about the accuracy of the numbers reported daily by the media, with some claiming they're undercounted and others saying they’re being inflated.

Joseph Curl, Daily Wire, May 9, 2020

As of Saturday morning, there have been 1,286,833 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The widely cited source also says 77,280 Americans have died from the coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China.

Is that accurate?

New questions emerged this week about the accuracy of the numbers reported daily by the media, with some claiming they're undercounted and others, including U.S. government officials, saying they're being inflated to make the pandemic appear worse, KOMO-TV in Washington state reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance to public health officials to aid them in determining COVID-19 deaths, the station reported.

"If COVID-19 played a role in the death, this condition should be specified on the death certificate," the CDC said. "In many cases, it is likely that it will be the [underlying cause of death], as it can lead to various life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). In these cases, COVID-19 should be reported on the lowest line … with the other conditions to which it gave rise listed on the lines above it."

In an update on the guidance, the CDC said "The underlying cause depends upon what and where conditions are reported on the death certificate. However, the rules for coding and selection of the underlying cause of death are expected to result in COVID19 being the underlying cause more often than not."

When reporting the number of COVID-19 certified deaths, they may seem undercounted because the information usually lags a week or two, according to the CDC, KOMO reported.

Deputy St. Joseph County health officer Dr. Mark Fox expressed confidence that COVID-19 death numbers were accurate, while acknowledging that the reporting process can be tricky, WNDU-TV in Indiana reported on Monday.

Fox told the station that if a patient dies from a heart attack but has tested positive for COVID-19, it's up to that patient's physician to decide if it is coronavirus-related.

The numbers have prompted questions. During the 2017-18 winter, pneumonia- and flu-related deaths hit 10%. But in the week ending April 11, COVID-19 deaths hit a record 23.5%, the station reported.

There's incentive for hospitals to classify some deaths as COVID-19 related. Sen. Scott Jensen (R-MN) said last month on "The Ingraham Angle" that hospitals get paid more if Medicare patients are listed as having the virus.

"Hospital administrators might well want to see COVID-19 attached to a discharge summary or a death certificate. Why? Because 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."

A USA Today fact check deemed that claim "true."

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