A closer look at U.S. deaths due to COVID-19/ Johns Hopkins Newsletter-CENSORED

This detailed article about the research findings of a JHU professor goes against the narrative that Covid has caused a large number (2-300,000) of excess US deaths. It received a huge amount of interest, and was published and then taken down by this student-run newsletter. I must assume, given this, that the research is never likely to be published in an academic journal, and I fear the researcher may have killed her career.

I don’t know if her findings are correct, but they are tantalizing.  I have not believed CDC’s death numbers, since I know how CDC prefers to publish narratives rather than facts, when possible.  You will find that much (not all) data on the CDC website consists of estimates of cases of diseases or deaths, made by unknown algorithms. It is also important to be aware that a) CDC changed the guidelines for reporting deaths associated with Covid in March, in a manner that maximized Covid being reported first on death certificates, and b) payments to hospitals are much higher when Covid is diagnosed.

How CDC appears to have done this was by a slight turn of phrase:  the new guidance on reporting death certificate data for Covid states, “When Covid-19 is reported as a cause of death on the death certificate, it is coded and counted as a death due to Covid-19.”

Here’s an example.  Death certificates are to be filled out with all contributors to death and the duration they have been present, such as diabetes 10 years, heart attack ten days, stroke 1 hour, covid-19 one week.  This person came to the hospital with a heart attack, caught covid in hospital, then had a stroke, probably due to the blood thinners used to treat the heart attack.  Maybe covid contributed. This death will be logged as a Covid death, not a heart attack or stroke death, according to CDC’s updated guidance.

The JHU newletter article can be found using the waybackmachine at the following URL. I have reprinted it in full.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201126223119/https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2020/11/a-closer-look-at-u-s-deaths-due-to-covid-19

The article answers a sticky question about US Covid deaths:  are they deaths with Covid, or deaths because of Covid?  The answer, which has been obfuscated all year by federal public health agencies, is that in 2020 deaths coded as being caused by heart disease, cancer, etc. are way down, while deaths coded as due to Covid almost exactly fill in the gap that would have been filled in by other conditions, in any other year.

A closer look at U.S. deaths due to COVID-19

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According to new data, the U.S. currently ranks first in total COVID-19 cases, new cases per day and deaths. Genevieve Briand, assistant program director of the Applied Economics master’s degree program at Hopkins, critically analyzed the effect of COVID-19 on U.S. deaths using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in her webinar titled “COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data.”

From mid-March to mid-September, U.S. total deaths have reached 1.7 million, of which 200,000, or 12% of total deaths, are COVID-19-related. Instead of looking directly at COVID-19 deaths, Briand focused on total deaths per age group and per cause of death in the U.S. and used this information to shed light on the effects of COVID-19.

She explained that the significance of COVID-19 on U.S. deaths can be fully understood only through comparison to the number of total deaths in the United States. 

After retrieving data on the CDC website, Briand compiled a graph representing percentages of total deaths per age category from early February to early September, which includes the period from before COVID-19 was detected in the U.S. to after infection rates soared. 

Surprisingly, the deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19. Since COVID-19 mainly affects the elderly, experts expected an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups. However, this increase is not seen from the CDC data. In fact, the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same. 

“The reason we have a higher number of reported COVID-19 deaths among older individuals than younger individuals is simply because every day in the U.S. older individuals die in higher numbers than younger individuals,” Briand said.

Briand also noted that 50,000 to 70,000 deaths are seen both before and after COVID-19, indicating that this number of deaths was normal long before COVID-19 emerged. Therefore, according to Briand, not only has COVID-19 had no effect on the percentage of deaths of older people, but it has also not increased the total number of deaths. 

These data analyses suggest that in contrast to most people’s assumptions, the number of deaths by COVID-19 is not alarming. In fact, it has relatively no effect on deaths in the United States.

This comes as a shock to many people. How is it that the data lie so far from our perception? 

To answer that question, Briand shifted her focus to the deaths per causes ranging from 2014 to 2020. There is a sudden increase in deaths in 2020 due to COVID-19. This is no surprise because COVID-19 emerged in the U.S. in early 2020, and thus COVID-19-related deaths increased drastically afterward.

Analysis of deaths per cause in 2018 revealed that the pattern of seasonal increase in the total number of deaths is a result of the rise in deaths by all causes, with the top three being heart disease, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia.

“This is true every year. Every year in the U.S. when we observe the seasonal ups and downs, we have an increase of deaths due to all causes,” Briand pointed out.

When Briand looked at the 2020 data during that seasonal period, COVID-19-related deaths exceeded deaths from heart diseases. This was highly unusual since heart disease has always prevailed as the leading cause of deaths. However, when taking a closer look at the death numbers, she noted something strange. As Briand compared the number of deaths per cause during that period in 2020 to 2018, she noticed that instead of the expected drastic increase across all causes, there was a significant decrease in deaths due to heart disease. Even more surprising, as seen in the graph below, this sudden decline in deaths is observed for all other causes. 

COURTESY OF GENEVIEVE BRIAND 

Graph depicts the number of deaths per cause during that period in 2020 to 2018.

This trend is completely contrary to the pattern observed in all previous years. Interestingly, as depicted in the table below, the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19. This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19. 

COURTESY OF GENEVIEVE BRIAND  

Graph depicts the total decrease in deaths by various causes, including COVID-19.  

The CDC classified all deaths that are related to COVID-19 simply as COVID-19 deaths. Even patients dying from other underlying diseases but are infected with COVID-19 count as COVID-19 deaths. This is likely the main explanation as to why COVID-19 deaths drastically increased while deaths by all other diseases experienced a significant decrease.

“All of this points to no evidence that COVID-19 created any excess deaths. Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers. We found no evidence to the contrary,” Briand concluded.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Briand addressed the question of whether COVID-19 deaths can be called misleading since the infection might have exacerbated and even led to deaths by other underlying diseases.

“If [the COVID-19 death toll] was not misleading at all, what we should have observed is an increased number of heart attacks and increased COVID-19 numbers. But a decreased number of heart attacks and all the other death causes doesn’t give us a choice but to point to some misclassification,” Briand replied.

In other words, the effect of COVID-19 on deaths in the U.S. is considered problematic only when it increases the total number of deaths or the true death burden by a significant amount in addition to the expected deaths by other causes. Since the crude number of total deaths by all causes before and after COVID-19 has stayed the same, one can hardly say, in Briand’s view, that COVID-19 deaths are concerning.

Briand also mentioned that more research and data are needed to truly decipher the effect of COVID-19 on deaths in the United States.

Throughout the talk, Briand constantly emphasized that although COVID-19 is a serious national and global problem, she also stressed that society should never lose focus of the bigger picture — death in general. 

The death of a loved one, from COVID-19 or from other causes, is always tragic, Briand explained. Each life is equally important and we should be reminded that even during a global pandemic we should not forget about the tragic loss of lives from other causes.

According to Briand, the over-exaggeration of the COVID-19 death number may be due to the constant emphasis on COVID-19-related deaths and the habitual overlooking of deaths by other natural causes in society. 

During an interview with The News-Letter after the event, Poorna Dharmasena, a master’s candidate in Applied Economics, expressed his opinion about Briand’s concluding remarks.

“At the end of the day, it’s still a deadly virus. And over-exaggeration or not, to a certain degree, is irrelevant,” Dharmasena said.

When asked whether the public should be informed about this exaggeration in death numbers, Dharmasena stated that people have a right to know the truth. However, COVID-19 should still continuously be treated as a deadly disease to safeguard the vulnerable population.

*** The original presentation was done for JHU AAP Events, where AAP stands for Advanced Academic Programs.  

The JHU News-Letter, which is a student publication, decided to retract Ms. Gu’s article about it. That decision was their own. Yanni Gu did an excellent job at reporting the content of the presentation.     

The retracted article is still linked here, in the middle of the justification given :  A closer look at U.S. deaths due to COVID-19 – The Johns Hopkins News-Letter (jhunewsletter.com)       

Now unlisted and taken off JHU AAP Events list on their YouTube channel, the full presentation is still available at: Covid-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data – YouTube         

*** Dr. Briand explains during the presentation where she found and downloaded the data from, so anyone else can easily replicate her analysis.        

Ms. Gu’s response to her article being retracted can be found here: (72) Author’s Response to “A Closer Look at U.S. Deaths due to COVID-19″​ | LinkedIn  

Additional explanation for the retraction is given by the JHU News-Letter Editorial Board here: On the retraction of “A closer look at U.S. deaths” and our coverage of COVID-19 – The Johns Hopkins News-Letter (jhunewsletter.com) 


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Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

Because of covid is still a death caused by covid. Plus this is not acknowledging folks who have “recovered” from covid but then die later due to complications caused because of covid. My uncle would be alive right now if he wouldn’t have caught covid in an assisted living facility. He had stage 4 Parkinson’s. Covid pushed him into stage 5. He went from assisted living to FT care. His heart rate was dangerously high and continued to be even after he supposedly recovered. He had to have his heart restarted which brought his rate back to normal however after that procedure he continued to decline and died about a month later. I think many read this information to their liking and decide this virus is not so deadly so they continue to make selfish decisions like not wearing a mask, go to large gatherings, or ignoring quarantine or travel restrictions, etc. Personally it’s infuriating.

John F. McGowan, Ph.D.
John F. McGowan, Ph.D.
2 years ago

This seems consistent with either the COVID antibody and RT-PCR tests have a high false positive rate with deaths then blamed on COVID or the SARS-COV-2 virus simply killing people who are one minor infection away from death anyway, perhaps elbowing out other common respiratory viruses. COVID is acting as an opportunistic infection.

As I have mentioned previously, there are huge differences in the CDC's own counts of deaths from pneumonia and influenza prior to the current pandemic — at least since 2013 based on the data on the CDC web sites. It looks like these are caused by whether pneumonia and influenza is listed as the "underlying cause of death" or simply "a cause of death." The numbers seem to have large errors due to the arbitrariness of assigning a cause of death/the cause of death. No error bars are reported in most of the numbers however — common scientific practice where numbers are uncertain.

The CDC uses two grossly contradictory numbers of annual deaths from pneumonia and influenza: about 55,000 in the annual leading causes of the death report and about 188,000 in National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data used on the FluView web site to report the percentage of deaths each week due to pneumonia and influenza. These differ by a factor of OVER THREE. The larger FluView number is comparable to the current cumulative total COVID-19 deaths in the United States (Aug 30, 2020).

Since it is generally agreed that lockdowns and quarantines are not justified for a disease similar to typical annual pneumonia and influenza deaths, the reasons for this gross contradiction in the two annual death numbers should be resolved. Is it correct to compare the COVID-19 death numbers to the FluView number, the leading causes of death number, or some other number and, if so, exactly why and how?

Full details here: How Reliable are the US CDC's Death Numbers: https://tinyurl.com/y33st9ww

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