On his talk radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin attempted to revive a statistical sleight of hand among right-wing media and other organizations to claim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a plummeting number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.
On the July 10 edition of Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show, Levin referred to a CDC web page on running death counts by week, and claimed that the week that ended on July 4 showed only 71 deaths from coronavirus.
As Media Matters explained two months ago, this depends on the deceptive use of just one of the two running totals that the CDC maintains. In the case of the statistic to which Levin referred, this difference in bureaucratic reporting methods uses narrower versus wider definitions of coronavirus-related causes of death.
The very top of the page to which Levin referred, the provisional death count, presents this disclaimer:
Note: Provisional death counts are based on death certificate data received and coded by the National Center for Health Statistics as of July 13, 2020. Death counts are delayed and may differ from other published sources (see Technical Notes). Counts will be updated periodically. Additional information will be added to this site as available.
There are also further explanatory notes right below the table, including the following:
Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes. This delay can range from 1 week to 8 weeks or more, depending on the jurisdiction and cause of death.
But Levin ignored these disclaimers, instead asking “why this is being censored by newsrooms across cable TV” and adding, “Ladies and gentlemen, shouldn't we be celebrating this?”
At this time of writing, the page to which Levin referred showed 302 deaths recorded from the recent week in question — a number that will certainly climb higher as more of the finished data is sent in. The CDC also keeps another running total of both confirmed and probable cases and deaths, which runs ahead of the provisional death count, and this is the figure that is more often cited by the media.
CBS Sports Radio host Bill Simonson also tweeted the claim that there were only 302 coronavirus deaths for the week in question, using a screen grab of the CDC page:
This difference between completed death reports and probable cases will get especially important with the recent increases in case numbers, including in such large states as Florida and Texas. Not only are COVID-19 death numbers a lagging indicator behind actual cases, but it takes extra time for those death certificates to be filed and fully reported to CDC.
Predictably, Levin also used the subject of identified cases to boost pro-Trump talking points and slam coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is also under attack from the White House and right-wing media, saying: “You do more tests, you find more infections. Wow, think about that. And so all they talk about is the positive tests, the positive tests, the positives. So the president the other week says, ‘Maybe we should take less tests.’ Dr. Fauci says, ‘Let's not look at the mortality rate, that doesn’t tell us anything.’ This guy, may I say this respectfully, is becoming a quack.”