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Misinterpreted CDC data leads to social media frenzy over COVID-19

Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 5:54 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - New data is leading to confusion about just how deadly COVID-19 really is. You might have seen it on your social media feeds, and our local health experts want to separate facts from fear.

Misinformation and COVID-19 seemingly go hand in hand at this point, but health officials say this situation shows how dangerous that is.

It all started with one line of data, and health experts say that misinterpretation of a CDC report is now spreading across the internet.

Viral Facebook posts claiming only 6 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths actually died from the virus.

Thousands of tweets, even President Donald Trump retweeted one, but his post was blocked by Twitter as misinformation.

“This is a blatant misinterpretation of this data,” Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer of AU Health, said.

Coule says you should read the data this way: 6 percent of people who died of COVID-19 -- had it listed on their death certificate as the sole cause of death.

“Actually, a figure of 6 percent listing COVID-19 only is actually a shocking number,” Coule said. “More concerning the fact that these people did not have any other condition along with COVID-19.”

Coule says even if a completely healthy person dies of COVID-19, there are typically three or four other conditions listed.

“People can develop renal failure, so we would expect to see renal failure listed as a diagnosis that contributed to the death,” he explained.

Renal failure is a so-called “comorbidity” or condition causing death listed in the CDC data. This means there could be healthy people who died of COVID-19, plus conditions they developed due to the virus in the other 94 percent of deaths.

“For the people that continue to politicize and spread it, it actually makes our job much more difficult,” Coule said.

He also says it’s actually offensive for his team at AU and the healthcare community and detrimental to taking this disease seriously.

“The worst thing that can happen is that people just see the headline or the misinformation headline, and then go, ‘See? It was all a hoax,’” Coule said.

With anything questionable on social media, just do a quick Google search. Find a reputable and fact-based news outlet or health source if you have questions about COVID-19.

AU Health says the mortality rate is the best sign of the seriousness of COVID-19. They say there’s no doubt that this pandemic has caused a large number of deaths.

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