There’s Nothing Contrived About the Coronavirus Death Toll

‘They would have died anyway’ is a flawed and ugly claim

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
6 min readJun 24, 2020

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Medical staff move the bodies of Covid-19 victims from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to a refrigerated truck on April 2, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

People who believe Covid-19 is not a big deal and is something we should just live with, like the flu, argue that the death toll is inflated because many of those who have died were old or had underlying medical conditions and would have died soon anyway.

The argument is not only morally reprehensible but also scientifically flawed, experts say. If a person has a medical condition that puts them at greater risk of complications from Covid-19, and they catch the disease and die, epidemiologists say their death certificate should list Covid-19 as the cause of death.

“People with underlying conditions such as diabetes & high blood pressure who died with Covid also died of Covid because they wouldn’t have died at that point in time without Covid,” Nisreen Alwan, PhD, associate professor in public health at the University of Southampton in England, said on Twitter.

One way Alwan and other epidemiologists measure the causes, trends, and outcomes of a disease is to consider a “counterfactual” scenario. In this case: Would these people have died if Covid-19 didn’t exist?

Researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland answered that question with a resounding “not yet.” In a study that has yet to be peer reviewed, the researchers compared the ages of Covid-19 victims to standard measures of life expectancy, while also accounting for their underlying health conditions. The average Covid-19 death subtracted 13 years of life from women and 11 for men.

“If somebody’s been living with heart disease and diabetes and they have Covid-19 in their system… I would suggest that, yes, they died of SARS-CoV-2, of Covid-19 disease,” says Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “However, it was probably exacerbated by underlying conditions.”

The average Covid-19 death subtracted 13 years of life from women and 11 for men.

‘Reprehensible’ thinking

While Covid-19 has killed people in all age groups, it is indeed more dangerous

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Founder/editor of Wise & Well on Medium & the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com & author of Make Sleep Your Superpower amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB