One fallacy that i often see put out on social media is that the common, regular seasonal flu that comes around again each year is responsible for taking many more lives than has COVID-19. The supposition is that (dummy or sinister, your pick) government leaders are needlessly insisting everyone takes extraordinary (economy and small business destroying) emergency measures. A variation upon this same theme is that the common, regular seasonal flu deaths this year are being miscategorized as COVID-19 deaths by medical professionals (who are either incompetent or greedy, your pick again).
As a corrective to these misinformed notions, i figured that the Center for Disease Control might have some cold, hard (and relevant) data. Conveniently, the CDC keeps a database of the causes of death from all the death certificates filed across the country. Digging into this produced the featured chart above showing the counts of death by selected causes in California for the same 44-week period (roughly February through November) both this year and last year.
This chart shows there were 4,493 deaths in California that identified influenza and pneumonia (coded J09-J18) as the cause of death during this period in 2019 and about five percent more, 4,722, in 2020. Comparatively, over this same span of time in 2020 in California, there were four times as many deaths, 18,888, with COVID-19 identified as one of multiple causes of death. Now, some people might cry foul at this count as a (possibly hypothetical) traffic accident victim that was mortally run over but had previously (or posthumously) tested positive with the virus would be included in this count, i.e., the person in question perhaps didn’t die because of COVID-19 but rather died with it. For these (possibly hypothetical) cynics, the count of death certificates where COVID-19 is identified as the underlying cause is broken out separately as the still substantial count of 17,563, only 7.0% fewer. Per the CDC, “Each death certificate contains a single underlying cause of death, up to twenty additional multiple causes.” The corresponding counts where the cause of deaths were identified as Diseases of heart (codes I00-I09, I11, I13, I20-I51) are also charted for purposes of comparison.
The chart below considers the same criteria of deaths but counting all of the country rather than just the state of California. Nationally, there were 40,315 deaths that identified influenza and pneumonia (coded J09-J18) as the cause of death during this same forty-four week period in 2019 and almost six percent more, 42,710, in 2020. The comparative count of deaths nationally with COVID-19 identified as one of multiple causes of death is 260,141, over five times as many as the flu/pneumonia deaths. Breaking out the deaths where COVID-19 was identified as the underlying cause still leaves over ninety-one percent, a count of 237,739.
So now you know. The common, run of the mill, seasonal flu that besets California and the rest of the country each year is not more deadly than COVID-19. Quite the opposite actually: there are several times more deaths where COVID-19 is identified as the underlying cause than those due to influenza and pneumonia per the CDC records of death certificates. Neither are the high numbers of COVID-19 deaths merely a result of misattribution of common flu deaths (either through incompetence or malfeasance). The counts of flu deaths in the CDC records still show up as such in 2020 just as they did the previous year (actually, several percent more of them this year). The deaths this year identfied as COVID-19 caused (either underlying or one of multiple) are incremental to the total deaths last year… i can’t empirically prove that every COVID-19 death isn’t really a flu death but neither can cynics prove the opposite. But really, the web of conspiracy among (incompetent or unethical) medical professionals extends as widespread across California and the rest of the country as what, a pandemic? Any questions?
Many more related charts are available at the dashboard.