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California County Cut COVID-19 Deaths by 25

Tracy Davenport Tracy Davenport
15th June 2021
California County Cut COVID-19 Deaths by 25
Some deaths were not caused by the virus (Screenshot).

The Claim

A California county cut COVID-19 deaths by 25%.

Emerging story

On June 6, 2021, Fox News tweeted that a California county cut a COVID-19 death toll after determining some deaths were not caused by the virus. The tweet was then liked or shared more than 6000 times. 

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Misbar’s Analysis

Misbar discovered officials in Alameda County issued a new death toll report that showed the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the area at 1,223. Previously, the count was at 1,634 according to the San Francisco Times. In an update issued from the Alameda County health department, the county’s dashboard will be updated to reflect the total number of COVID-19 deaths using the State’s death reporting definition. Previously, Alameda County included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County.

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According to the Oaklandside, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said, “Although some adjustments are to be expected, 25% seems high.” Adalja said he has never seen this big of an adjustment in a death count with other infectious diseases. 

Alameda County officials explained that the system of reporting COVID-19 deaths on the dashboard and to the State was implemented early in the pandemic, prior to the establishment of State guidelines for reporting deaths due to COVID-19. 

The fatality numbers that were changed most likely created a greater uneasiness than would be expected because since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of people who have died from COVID-19 has become the nation’s most watched and scrutinized health statistic according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Whether people die “of” COVID-19 or “with” COVID-19 has been a basis for confusion and argument throughout the pandemic. According to AAMC, “Last April, Deborah Birx, M.D., coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said this when asked about people who have COVID-19 but die from preexisting conditions: ‘If someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.’” Statements such as this, and then a large reduction of cases from Alameda County, can create doubt and cause people to wonder if they can trust information coming out about COVID-19. 

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According to AAMC, it’s all complicated even without a policy change around a definition such as what happened in Alameda County. For example, if someone is very sick with heart disease and contracts COVID-19, and then dies, if COVID-19 was a contributor, then the CDC guidance counts that as a COVID-19 related death. For medical professionals, it can be unclear how much COVID-19 shortened a life. 

As time goes by and health departments reassess their counting methods, or as we learn more about COVID-19 and how it interacts with underlying conditions, the fatality numbers will be only estimations and will most likely continue to change over time in many jurisdictions. 

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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