If we can't get prudence and scientific research out of our public health officials, the next best thing is honesty. It's better that they be up front with us about their insidious methods of measuring the severity of this virus than resort to obfuscation or outright lies. In that vein, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of disease control for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Arizona, should be commended for her candor.
During an exchange with ABC15 reporter Nicole Grigg about unaccounted deaths in the county, Dr. Sunenshine offered the most vivid admission to date that anyone who dies with any positive test for COVID-19 is counted as a COVID death regardless of the evidence of symptoms. And she is proud of it!
UNACCOUNTED DEATHS: in Arizona’s largest county @Garrett_Archer finding there are 600 unaccounted deaths in July.… https://t.co/lEwnE5XsVN— Nicole Grigg (@Nicole Grigg)1597882370.0
What is striking is how blissfully ignorant she is of the absurdity and irony of her candor. She makes two disparate but related points: 1) Anyone with a COVID-19 positive test who dies within a certain time frame from the test is counted as a COVID death; 2) Anyone with COVID "anywhere" on the death certificate is counted as a COVID death.
There are some estimates that up to 80 percent of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic. With a virus that is this widespread but only deadly in a small number of people, how can any individual who tests positive be counted as a COVID death, even if it's not mentioned on the death certificate? As we know, anyone who is in the hospital for a large range of life-threatening ailments – from heart failure and cancer to car accident trauma or drug overdoses – is tested for the virus. A certain percentage, especially when the virus is spreading rapidly in that area, will always test positive, but most will not present meaningful symptoms.
This problem of inflated death counts is getting worse as the virus appears to become even more widespread but less deadly over time. The distortion of the death count will diverge even more from reality as this trend continues.
Next, Dr. Sunenshine says that among those who do have the virus listed as one of the causes of death on their death certificates, their deaths go into the count so long as COVID-19 is listed "anywhere" on that document. But if someone really came in with trouble breathing from COVID-19 and died of it, that should be quite apparent. Especially given the financial incentives encouraging hospitals to list COVID as the primary cause of death, no doctor is going to list it on line B or C simply because the decedent had an underlying diabetes condition when COVID clearly killed them at that moment. The fact that a doctor would list it on line B or C, unless line A was related to COVID (like pneumonia or respiratory distress), clearly indicates in this context that the person likely died of other causes. Yet the Maricopa health official is admitting all of those cases are included in the death count without any investigation.
In June, I reported that fewer than half of coronavirus deaths counted in Minnesota had the virus listed as the primary cause of death. Many of them had stroke or dementia listed as the top cause of death. Some cases listed "lung cancer," "terminal cerebral degeneration," "stroke," "acute renal failure," or "abdominal catastrophe" as the primary cause of death.
Let's face it: At this pace, even if the death rate of the virus drops to zero, we will continue to have "COVID-19 deaths," given the widespread testing mixed with deceptive coding of death. Imagine if we took the time to identify any individual who happened to have a cold while he died and then listed the cold as the cause of death.
The analogy to a cold is not far-fetched, given that the virus might very well be attenuating or transforming into a fifth coronavirus cold. According to Matteo Bassetti, director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic of the San Martino Hospital in Genoa, over 90% of cases tested in his region are asymptomatic, and the virus is weakening. "In the months of March, April, May at San Martino in Genoa we had a mortality of 11% in hospitalized patients. Now it is zero," said Bassetti in an interview with Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. (Translation via Google Translate.)
Hence, endless cases of a cold mixed with universal testing and absurd coding of deaths could perpetuate a pseudo-epidemic for months to come, turning good news into phantom doom and destruction.