Officials raise concerns about CDC counting systems

Medical professionals pass each other a coronavirus test at a drive-thru testing site at Cambridge Health Alliance Somerville Hospital on April 28, 2020 in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Both federal health officials said it was unclear how much higher the death toll for Covid-19 could be, potentially thousands or tens of thousands more. The question is how the data is sent out by states, officials said.

“The provisional death counts may not match the counts from other sources, such as media reports or county health department numbers,” says the CDC on its website. “Our counts often track 1-2 weeks compared to other data.”

When CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes was approached for comment, he directed CNN about his provisional death counts for Covid-19 on his website.

As of May 15, CDC data indicate 60,299 deaths. The death toll in the United States of CNN, fueled by data from Johns Hopkins University, is currently over 86,000.

Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday if he believes the death toll is accurate, President Donald Trump said, “These are the numbers that are reported. I assume they are correct.”

The CDC states that states report at different rates. Currently, 63% of all deaths in the United States are reported within 10 days of the death date, but there is a significant variation between states, the agency said.

“It’s part of the problem, we don’t know how late there is, but surely there is a delay,” one of the officials at CNN said.

Currently, data sent to the CDC is collected in two ways, officials said. The first is through frontline clinicians and state health departments, which both officials have told CNN “out of date for 2020” and are contributing to the delay.

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“It’s hard to say how far back, but it goes down over the weekend. Monday and Tuesday it goes back. There is some delay,” said one of the officials on the number of deaths reported to the CDC.

“The data that CDC gets is as good as the data sent to the agency by the frontline clinics and state health departments,” added the second official. “There are varying degrees of ability of states to use electronic systems to collect and share such data with the CDC.”

In particular, local health officials must physically write death certificates and send them to the National Center for Health Statistics, causing what may be a two to three week delay in accurately recording results.

Following the delay, in mid-April, the Council of State and Territorial Council of Epidemiologists began a second way of collecting data on Covid-19 deaths, which included the counting of Covid-19 deaths from “confirmed confirmed cases and probable cases, “said one official.

The CDC has worked on a major data modernization initiative to “beautify the system”, primarily by giving state and local health departments the ability to collect data electronically in real time, federal officials said.

The system, which would help digitize data using modern technology, will not be operational until the end of the year, an official said.

Officials are not alone in raising concerns that the true American death toll could be much higher, for a variety of reasons.

The CDC, in several reports, found that the nation’s “excess deaths” exceeded the number of coronavirus deaths. And in a hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told White House task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, who “some epidemiologists suggest that the number may be 50% higher”.

Fauci replied that he wasn’t sure of the 50% number, “but most of us believe that the death toll is probably higher than that number because of the situation, particularly in New York City, when they were really short of a serious challenge to their healthcare system that there may have been people who died at home who had Covid, who were not considered Covid because they never really got to the hospital. “

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“So in direct response to your question, I think you’re right that the number is probably higher. I don’t know exactly what percentage more,” said Fauci.


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