During the « March for the Dead » across the Brooklyn Bridge on August 21, a person holds a sign with … [+] a death count of those who have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus to protest the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, on August 21, 2020 in New York. (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)
When you see “only 6%” trending on Twitter, the next obvious question is “only 6% of what?” Only 6% of dogs wear shoes? Only 6% of cats are plotting to stage a coup d’état in your house? Only 6% of what Tinder profiles say is true?
Nope. Various Tweets were pulling the 6% number from the following passage on the “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:
“Table 3 shows the types of health conditions and contributing causes mentioned in conjunction with deaths involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”
For example, a Twitter account named Mel Q (not to be mistaken as a sixth member of the Spice Girls along with Mel B and Mel C) tweeted out the following:
Yeah, the Q doesn’t stand for “quahog” or “quick, say Yosemite.” It seems to stand for QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that claims among other things that a network of Satan-worshiping pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring and are trying to take down U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Speaking of Trump, is that the Donald J. Trump that retweeted the Mel Q tweet? Looks that way because the account is called @realDonaldTrump as opposed to @notreallyDonaldTrump. So if the President retweeted the Mel Q statements then it’s got to be credible, right?
One itty bitty problem with the @littellmel Tweet though: it does not accurately portray what the CDC said on it’s web site. That’s why if you search for the original Tweet now, you will get a message that says, « This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” Umm, whatcha doing Mr. President?
If you want to know why the original Tweet was inaccurate or misleading, just read the rest of what the CDC indicated after the 6%: “For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.” Take a gander at what these additional conditions or causes are. They include things such as adult pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure, respiratory arrest, other diseases of the respiratory system, and sepsis. Hmmm, these sound very much like the things that Covid-19 can lead to and what can ultimately kill people with severe Covid-19.
So, for example, say a person gets a Covid-19 coronavirus infection, which eventually progresses to pneumonia, ARDS, respiratory distress, and death. Then there’s a decent chance doctors will indicate more than one of these conditions as a cause of death. After all, when you go to the grocery store, come back with a bunch of food and 5,000 rolls of toilet paper, and are asked, “where have you been and what have you been doing,” you don’t tend to just say, “I got into the car.”
This is a reminder that the virus can trigger a series of events that can ultimately take a person’s life. In fact, with Covid-19 leading to all sorts of problems in the body, the probability is high (say over 90%) that something else will then be recorded as a cause of death in addition to Covid-19. It would actually be unusual to simply put Covid-19 as a cause of death without specifying what led to the patient’s demise.
Thus, the 6% did not mean that “only 6%” of the 161,392 deaths (as of August 26) recorded by the CDC were actually from Covid-19 as Mel Q suggested.
This activity included Tweets like the following that suggested that only 6% of those who died from Covid-19 didn’t have pre-existing conditions:
As you can see, @drdavidsamadi mentioned that “many men have been affected by Covid-19,” just in case you didn’t know that, and that he’s a “men’s health expert.” It’s probably better than someone else saying “as a clothing expert, many people wearing clothes have been affected by Covid-19,” and then rendering an opinion about the CDC data. Nevertheless, what the CDC said on its website did not necessarily mean that “94% of the deaths were in cases with pre-existing conditions.”
Other people (or Twitter accounts in case they were not real people) suggested that people no longer need take recommended public health precautions such as this Tweet:
Now is @TheDamaniFelder (versus @ADaminiFelder) implying that anyone who has worn a mask is a sheep? Wouldn’t that include Trump, who has worn a mask at least once during his visit Walter Reed? Lone Ranger Sheep doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
No, that’s not what CDC said. Plus, if you think this means masks off and schools open, then, in the words of Judas Priest, you’ve got another thing coming. Others tried to use this opportunity to bash, surprise, surprise, the media and scientists:
Even the actor who played Hercules in the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys jumped into the fray:
This was only a small fraction, oh say, less than 6%, of the Tweets on Sunday about the topic.
At the same time, others tried to clarify what the CDC really meant, because misrepresented information could be kind of bad for your health:
Misrepresentation of CDC statements and statistics? Tweets telling you to disregard public health recommendations? Someone bashing the media and scientists? The President retweeting something said by a QAnon supporter? Sigh, just another 2020 day in the Twittersphere. And only less than 6% of it.
I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am
I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am a Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health, Executive Director of PHICOR (@PHICORteam), Professor By Courtesy at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, and founder and CEO of Symsilico. My previous positions include serving as Executive Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at Johns Hopkins University, Associate Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Senior Manager at Quintiles Transnational, working in biotechnology equity research at Montgomery Securities, and co-founding a biotechnology/bioinformatics company. My work has included developing computational approaches, models, and tools to help health and healthcare decision makers in all continents (except for Antarctica) and has been supported by a wide variety of sponsors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the NIH, AHRQ, CDC, UNICEF, USAID and the Global Fund. I have authored over 200 scientific publications and three books. Follow me on Twitter (@bruce_y_lee) but don’t ask me if I know martial arts.
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