This notion was amplified when conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza tweeted May 2: “Just like that, CDC reduces its #Coronavirus death count to 37,000. That’s nearly HALF the total they were peddling. Did 30,000 people spring back to life like Lazarus? No, this seems a ‘gaffe’—defined as a case of the CDC accidentally telling the truth.” The post received more than 20,000 retweets.
USA TODAY reached out to the user who made the Facebook post and to D’Souza but did not receive a response.
Provisional deaths versus confirmed and probable deaths
As of April 14, 2020, the CDC regularly updates two measurements of deaths: provisional deaths (deaths verified by death certificates) and confirmed and probable cases (deaths based on case reports that are believed to have been caused by ).
The number of provisional deaths is based on data from the National Vital Statistics System, the data system the National Center for Health Statistics uses, which records information from death certificates. This number lags behind the number of confirmed and probable cases because, according to the CDC’s website, “it can take several weeks for death records to be submitted to (NCHS), processed, coded, and tabulated. Therefore, the data shown on this page may be incomplete, and will likely not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period, especially for the more recent time periods.”
This lengthier reporting process means provisional deaths lag about 1 week to 2 weeks behind other counts. The discrepancy has been a source of apparent confusion in relation to some of the posts claiming the CDC corrected or adjusted its count.
For example, when a Twitter user responded to D’Souza’s tweet trying to correct him with a screenshot of the number of confirmed and probable cases, D’Souza responded with a screenshot of the number of provisional deaths, saying, “See for yourself,” as if the two numbers were the same calculation.
Fact check: Is US coronavirus death toll inflated? Experts agree it’s likely the opposite
The New York Times reported in April that although the extent of the problem is not clear, a lack of testing, varying requirements for testing, inconsistent protocols for reporting deaths at the local and state level and people dying before being tested means many deaths were never counted.
Fact check: Coronavirus’s annual death toll can’t yet be calculated, compared
NPR reported in May that this issue has not improved. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a Senate hearing that month the death count is “almost certainly” is higher.
Despite incomplete death counts, archived versions of both of the CDC’s coronavirus death counts — provisional, and confirmed and probable — have continued to increase since the virus started spreading. There have been no instances of either death count being significantly reduced, as claimed in the Facebook post.
The Facebook user claimed the CDC admitted “adding pneumonia and flu with COVID deaths.” This is not true, as Bob Anderson, NCHS chief of mortality statistics, confirmed to AFP Fact Check.
Fact check: CDC has not stopped reporting flu deaths, and this season’s numbers are typical
According to archived web pages, the CDC has displayed “deaths with pneumonia and ” next to the count of all provisional deaths since April 3. On April 24, CDC added a column for deaths with pneumonia, influenza or in addition to the total of deaths.
The webpage with provisional deaths now includes columns for:
The variations of pneumonia and influenza deaths are reported alongside deaths because the illnesses exhibit similar symptoms. Considering all three tallies can provide a better understanding of the extent of cases that may have gone undiagnosed.
“Deaths due to may be misclassified as pneumonia or influenza deaths in the absence of positive test results, and pneumonia or influenza may appear on death certificates as a comorbid (when a person has two diseases at once) condition,” the CDC’s website reads. “Additionally, symptoms can be similar to influenza-like illness, thus deaths may be misclassified as influenza.”
Despite these new variations of the provisional death count, the total provisional death count of deaths involving was not significantly reduced. The same goes for confirmed and probable deaths, the number of which continued to increase.
Our ruling: False
Although it’s unclear where the Facebook user found the numbers 54,000 or 43,000, the CDC did not lower the death count, nor did it admit to adding influenza and pneumonia to it death count. The user may have confused the CDC’s additional reporting of influenza and pneumonia-related deaths or the fact that the CDC reports two different counts for deaths. We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research.
Our fact-check sources:
Dinesh D’Souza tweet, May 2, 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cases in the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Daily Updates of Totals by Week and State
New York Times, “Official Counts Understate the U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll,” April 7, 2020
Wayback Machine, “Daily Updates of Totals by Week and State”
Wayback Machine, “Cases in the U.S.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Technical Notes
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.