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Yes, 94% Of Those Who Died From Coronavirus Had Other Illnesses — But The Virus Was What Killed Them, Top Doc Says

Coronavirus can exacerbate or even cause medical issues, like lung and heart failure, that play a role in a person's death, Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Alivio Medical Center's Pilsen drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the Lower West Side neighborhood in action on Saturday, May 9, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — People are spreading misinformation online that downplays the deadliness of coronavirus.

Over the weekend, people on social media widely shared incorrect posts that falsely claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was saying just 6-7 percent of people reported as dying from COVID-19 had actually died from the virus. That’s inaccurate, Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday.

According to the CDC’s own website, COVID-19 was the only cause of death mentioned for 6 percent of people reported to have died from the virus — but all that means is 94 percent of other people who died from coronavirus also had a comorbidity, like lung disease.

Officials have long warned comorbidities like heart disease and diabetes put people at a higher risk for severe symptoms or even death from COVID-19.

Coronavirus can exacerbate or even cause medical issues, like lung and heart failure, that play a role in a person’s death, Dr. Allison Arwady said at a Tuesday press conference. COVID-19 has also caused severe kidney problems in some patients.

“All of this is because they’ve gotten COVID-19,” Arwady said. “If, unfortunately, this person dies while they’re in the hospital, the doctor has to fill out the death certificate and you list the things that this person had as well as what is the ultimate cause of death.”

Those people are dying from coronavirus, Arwady said, but a death certificate will include the other conditions they had and developed. The determination of what killed the person is made by a doctor or medical examiner.

In cases where coronavirus didn’t cause someone’s death, it’s not listed as the cause of death. Arwady’s example: If a person who had COVID-19 was shot to death, their cause of death will be listed as the shooting, even though they had coronavirus.

“The reports of people who died of COVID-19 are people who died because of being infected with COVID,” Arwady said.

If anything, Chicago has likely undercounted the number of people who have died from coronavirus, Arwady said, though she thinks most people who have died from the virus have been counted.

Throughout the United States, it’s estimated thousands of people have died from coronavirus without being counted, which means the country’s death toll should be higher than reported.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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