No, the CDC did not “revise” coronavirus deaths in half — even as right-wing media claim it did
After tweet by Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham pushed the lie; Fox guests also said it on air without being corrected
D’Souza linked to a page from CDC’s National Vital Statistics System, which currently shows the following table:
However, the CDC has not revised anything down. On another page the agency still has a different and much higher number listed — the one that is more often quoted in the media:
So, what exactly is going on here?
The two numbers represent separate stages of bureaucratic reporting and narrower versus wider definitions of coronavirus-related causes of death. Anybody who had actually read the descriptions on each page would know that.
Right below the table that D’Souza cited is the following note, explaining that this particular statistic includes only the deaths that have completed the processing of death certificates and that the numbers are incomplete and will be updated in the weeks ahead:
NOTE: Number of deaths reported in this table are the total number of deaths received and coded as of the date of analysis and do not represent all deaths that occurred in that period.
*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, age, and cause of death.
Meanwhile, the larger number on the other page — currently at over 65,000 — has an “About the Data” section laying out its far more expansive criteria:
Confirmed & Probable Cases
As of April 14, 2020, CDC case counts and death counts include both confirmed and probable cases and deaths.
A confirmed case or death is defined by meeting confirmatory laboratory evidence for COVID-19.
A probable case or death is defined by one of the following:
- Meeting clinical criteria AND epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19
- Meeting presumptive laboratory evidence AND either clinical criteria OR epidemiologic evidence
- Meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID19
D’Souza knows that the CDC reports these two separate numbers. He even accused the agency of padding the second one in another tweet, calling it a “‘funding-oriented’ statistic.”
In reality, it is well-documented that coronavirus testing capacity is a serious problem in the U.S., even as right-wing media figures have long insisted that the death numbers are inflated. Thus, a number that counts likely clinical indicators of COVID-19 infection, even in the absence of a full test, becomes a very important statistic for public health experts to use in monitoring the crisis -- and according to other CDC data, it may still be a vast undercount of the disease’s true death toll.
However, the falsehood that the CDC had somehow “revised” figures downward was freely peddled in right-wing media over the weekend, including by actor Kevin Sorbo and his wife, radio host Sam Sorbo during an appearance on Fox & Friends Weekend.
The two actively opposed lockdown measures in place around the country, and Sam Sorbo added toward the end of the interview: “My concern is that the predictions of Fauci and Birx have not been borne out in any degree. And so the CDC revised their death tolls to 37,000, which is not even on a rate of the flu at this point. So then what?”
The Fox News hosts did not correct Sorbo’s false claim.
Fox host Laura Ingraham also tweeted the claim that CDC had revised the coronavirus death toll downward:
Other right-wing media voices have also spread this debunked claim in various forms.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is now reporting that the Trump administration is privately projecting that deaths will climb to 3,000 per day into June.