Why COVID-19 deaths are not often the only cause listed

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INDIANAPOLIS — A COVID-19 death statistic is going viral, but many are sharing it without context.

In some cases, people are using it as an excuse to stop taking precautions.

That’s why health officials are stressing the full story.

When you first hear the CDC statistic, “Only 6% of Americans who died from COVID-19 died from COVID-19 alone,” you may think it isn’t killing as many people as you thought, but that’s not true.

“Dying with more than just a COVID-19 diagnosis does not mean that COVID-19 was not a cause of death,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis, vice president of data and analytics at the Regenstrief Institute.

This statistic didn’t tell experts anything new. It’s been a known fact people with underlying health conditions like diabetes, asthma and cancer are much more likely to die from the virus.

“I may be doing just fine with my lung disease, but then I am infected with COVID-19, and it pushes me over the edge,” said Grannis.

In this example, both COVID-19 and the lung disease would be listed as cause of death on the death certificate, which is where the CDC got this data.

“It is uncommon to only have one cause of death,” said Grannis. “It is very common to have multiple causes of death.”

Sometimes COVID-19 causes another contributing death factor.

“Acute respiratory distress is commonly listed, so what caused the acute respiratory distress? COVID-19,” explained Grannis.

Health officials fear misconstruing this data could cause more people to stop taking precautions.

“Not only is the virus real, the consequences of the virus is real,” said White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. “The hospitalizations that we still have every week is real, the number of Americans that we have lost to this virus are real, but what is also real is we have a way to prevent its spread.”

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