Trump suggests New York inflating its COVID-19 death numbers
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – President Donald Trump insinuated Wednesday that New York officials were inflating their statistics on coronavirus deaths, by including patients who may or may not have had the disease but died from something else.
As of Thursday morning, the United States is estimated to have seen 646,499 cases of COVID-19, with 28,641 deaths and 49,091 recoveries. More than a third of those cases and more than a half those deaths come from the state of New York.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the New York City Health Department added more than 3,700 to its official death count, single-handedly raising the national COVID-19 death toll by 17 percent. However, the number comes from the addition of people “presumed” to have had the virus but were not tested for it.
City health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot says the figure largely came from the observation that 3,000 more residents died between March 11 and April 13, than would have been ordinarily expected. “While these so-called excess deaths were not explicitly linked to the virus, they might not have happened had the outbreak not occurred, in part because it overwhelmed the normal health care system,” the Times says.
Responding to the update, Trump said, “I see this morning where New York added 3,000 deaths because they died,” Fox News reports. As an example, he suggested a scenario in which the direct cause of death is a heart attack, but it’s listed as a “heart attack caused by” COVID-19. “If you look at it, that’s it,” he said.
Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for New York Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, pushed back against the president, declaring that the lost New Yorkers “were people with names, hobbies, lives. They leave behind grieving loved ones. They deserve to be recognized, not minimized.”
On April 7, when New York’s death toll stood at over 4,700, statistics showed that 86 percent of the victims had underlying conditions.
Trump is not the first to question the jump in New York’s reported fatalities. Writing at National Review, Andy McCarthy grants that city officials’ inference “is not irrational,” but the fact remains that the true, exact extent to which COVID-19 caused these deaths – or how much of the number actually comes from people who died of something unrelated that went untreated due to hospitals’ focus on coronavirus patients – is unknowable.
“The fact is, [New York officials] are just making estimates,” McCarthy says. “And if the Big Apple is going to cook the books this way, what is to stop Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and the rest?”
The question dovetails with White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Debora Birx’s admission that “if someone dies with COVID-19” (i.e., if someone goes to the ICU for the virus but then dies of a heart or kidney problem), “we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.”
Many have defended this standard on the grounds that it’s important to understand how COVID-19 can still be a factor in death, even when not the sole, direct cause. However, there are other, less medically-based incentives to attribute as many cases as possible COVID-19. Forbes health policy analyst Avik Roy notes that the $2 trillion relief package enacted last month gives hospitals greater Medicaid reimbursements for patients listed with a “principal or secondary diagnosis of COVID-19.”
Correction: The final version of the bill bumped the premium from 15% to 20% for “an individual diagnosed with COVID-19.” Up to @CMSGov to specify what qualifies for that diagnosis, so as to prevent upcoding/gaming. pic.twitter.com/K2D1RtLcj8— Avik Roy (@Avik) April 15, 2020