Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus pandemic is not over
Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
A medical worker transports a patient on April 1, 2020, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Covid-19 deaths are not being overcounted in the United States. However, we see how there can be some confusion in understanding how covid death data is collected and reported, especially compared with hospitalization data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gathers data on deaths in multiple ways, including daily reports from health departments, which give the earliest look at trends in deaths. The most reliable way CDC gathers data on covid deaths is through provisional covid death counts based solely on death certificates, which take a bit more time to collect and report. When comparing deaths reported in these two systems, we see similar trends, which gives us confidence in their accuracy.

The CDC has detailed guidance on reporting covid deaths, outlined in the National Vital Statistics System’s Guidance for Certifying Deaths Due to Coronavirus Disease. This guidance clearly states that covid should be included on a death certificate only if it directly caused or contributed to a patient’s death.

The CDC is clear that hospitalization data displayed in agency reporting includes all people testing positive for the coronavirus, regardless of reason for hospital admission. Therefore, covid hospitalization data includes patients who were hospitalized because of covid, patients who were hospitalized for another condition that was likely made worse by having covid and patients who were hospitalized for reasons unrelated to the virus but tested positive while hospitalized.

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Accurate, transparent and accessible data is critical to our understanding of any illness, outbreak or public health threat. The CDC has made great strides in making timely and transparent data available.

More than 1 million people have died in the United States from covid. Each one of these deaths is a tragic loss that should be remembered as a person, not a statistic.

Debra Houry, Atlanta

The writer is the chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.