No, the CDC did not drop its COVID-19 death count to 37,000. In fact, it didn't 'revise' it at all.

I'm losing count of how many times in the past few days I've seen someone post something along the lines of this tweet:

"The CDC has actually ADMITTED that they overcounted COVID-19 deaths!"

"Look at the numbers—they're right there on the CDC website plain as day!"

"See, it's all overblown! We did this whole shutdown thing and tanked the economy for nothing!"

First of all, no, the CDC did not revise anything. Let's dive into these numbers because they actually are a bit confusing when you don't read the whole page (and frankly, some parts are a little confusing even if you do—get it together, CDC).


There are different methods of counting COVID-19 deaths, and the CDC's website includes numbers for two very different methods. We have:

1) The official CDC death count, which you can find on the CDC's home page. This count comes directly from public health departments in each state and territory daily. As of the writing of this article, that count stands at 68,279.

2) The Provisional Death Count, which is where that ~37,000 number comes from. This count comes from the National Vital Statistics System—the system that processes and logs death certificates. The notable thing about the Provisional Death Count is that it's not up-to-date. The CDC site itself states that the numbers on the Provisional Death chart lag weeks behind other counts:

"It is important to note that it can take several weeks for death records to be submitted to National Center for Health Statistics (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. Death counts for earlier weeks are continually revised and may increase or decrease as new and updated death certificate data are received from the states by NCHS. COVID-19 death counts shown here may differ from other published sources, as data currently are lagged by an average of 1–2 weeks."

Here's a real-world example of what this looks like:

This is a screenshot of the Provisional Death Count as of April 16, 2020 (which you can access at this CDC link). As you can see, the COVID death count for the week of 4/11/20 was 3,542.

And here is the Provisional Death Count as of the writing of this article, which you can view in real time at this CDC link. As you can see, the week of 4/11/20 has been updated from 3,542 deaths to 12,628—a nearly four-fold increase since the April 16 publication.

When the numbers were published on 4/16/20, there were still 9,086 death certificates that hadn't been processed yet from the week prior—that's what they mean by a lag. Three weeks later, the numbers are very different.

So that 37,000 total (well, 39,000 right now) will change as the death certificates get processed. The Provisional Death Count simply isn't accurate yet. And the lag means it will never be an up-to-date count, so it's not a reliable source for current death numbers.

The problem is that people have been sharing the not-up-to-date Provisional Death Count link as a way to make it sound like the COVID-19 death numbers are actually smaller. They are not.

It's worth noting that all COVID-19 death counts include both lab-confirmed and "presumed" COVID-19 deaths. This has also been a source of confusion, not to mention conspiracy. But "presumed" doesn't mean just a wild guess.

Test results for coronavirus have a high false negative rate—from 5% to 30%—according to Dr. Alan Wells, professor of pathology at University of Pittsburgh. So relying solely on positive lab test results for COVID deaths would miss thousands. At this point, doctors and medical examiners can generally recognize clear COVID symptoms in a critically ill or deceased patient, and if a patient meets the clinical, epidemiological, or vital records criteria for the COVID being the cause of death, that's considered "presumed."

Each state has different requirements for coding COVID-19 deaths, and it's generally a very small percentage that are counted as "presumed."

Adding to the confusion on this front, Dr. Birx, from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that the U.S. was taking a "liberal" approach to counting COVID-19 deaths, and ""The intent is, right now, that . . . if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death."

People unfortunately did not take that statement in the context of underlying conditions, which is what Dr. Birx was talking about. Here's what she actually said:

"There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition and let's say the virus caused you to go to the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem -- some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death. Right now ... if someone dies with COVID-19 we are counting that as a COVID-19 death."

If a person has a heart condition and they get sick with COVID-19 and die, COVID is counted as a cause of their death, even if they died of a heart attack—the reasonable assumption being that the disease led the patient's weakened heart to give in. Dr. Birx did not mean that a gunshot victim or a fatal car accident victim would be certified as a COVID-19 death just because they tested positive for the disease. That would be silly, not to mention illegal.

Read more on how COVID-19 deaths are counted from a forensic pathologist here.

You can also see an email from the Louisiana Health Department specifying how doctors are to log coronavirus deaths here:

So, no, COVID-19 death counts have not been revised downward, nor are they artificially inflated. In fact, it's more likely that they've been undercounted than overcounted, since only deaths that had been confirmed by tests were being counted for at least the first month of the outbreak in the U.S.

More importantly, read the fine print on a website before you make any assumptions about what you're seeing. Health data tracking can be a confusing to dive into under normal circumstances, much less during a novel virus pandemic where we're all learning as we go.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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