GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Kent County Health Department is explaining what an update on COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention means after misinformation on social media incorrectly claimed the agency had admitted only six percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths actually died from the virus.
“This adds to our concerns over the fact that there’s a certain population of the people who think that COVID is not going to impact them greatly,” said Brian Hartl, Kent County Health Department epidemiologist. “Understand, we still need to do our social distancing, wear our masks, and, really, if it’s not to protect yourself, it’s to protect those around you.”
Over the weekend, Twitter removed a tweet, which was retweeted by President Donald Trump, that falsely claims the CDC update reduced the number of US deaths from the coronavirus to only six percent of the reported total.
The update instead says COVID-19 is the sole cause mentioned in six percent of death certificates, while the other 94 percent, on average, had up to 2.6 additional health concerns contributing to a patient’s death.
According to Hartl, that information is not new.
“Infectious diseases … they take a toll on people whose hearts aren’t as strong, whose lungs aren’t as strong, their bodies have been fighting off other things,” said Hartl.
“It kind of just reinforces what we’ve been saying all along, that those individuals who have worse health conditions, are older, more vulnerable -- have underlying conditions like asthma and diabetes, lung conditions, heart conditions -- those are the people who are most at risk from dying from COVID19.”
Hartl considers the six percent death rate among people with no underlying health conditions high. He says while it’s hard to compare; deaths are rare with other viruses, like the flu and West Nile, if the person is healthy.
“When you look at it in the number, 10,000 people with no underlying conditions -- healthy people who became infected and died -- I think that’s enough to raise awareness that this is an infection that’s dangerous to people who have underlying conditions but can also cause death and severe complications in people who are totally healthy,” said Hartl.
If the misinformation is misused, Hartl says, it could lead to additional cases among 18 to 29-year-olds. He says the number of cases among that age group has been the highest among all age groups in Kent County for at least the last month.
“Even though it does not, may not impact you personally, you may not get severe illness or die from this,” said Hartl. "There is a potential for you to bring it to someone else who can."