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The challenge with death certificates

Even in regular years death statistics are challenging. Coroners do their best, but there is always a startling degree of imprecision in why someone actually died. Among other reasons, because just about everyone ultimately dies of heart failure. So they try to get to what caused the heart failure – cancer, blunt force trauma, infection, etc. But those are often just guesses, and in some cases they pick the one they deem most significant. For example, if you have stage 4 cancer but then catch the flu in ICU, should that go against that year’s cancer death toll, or that year’s flu death toll? Usually they put it down to cancer. But then the epidemiologists who calculate flu deaths have to make estimates that go beyond a simple count of death certificates, and are expressed in a range. So we get people comparing apples to oranges – a count of death certificates with the word covid on them, to an estimate of flu deaths that extrapolates, and is about 6x the count of death certificates with the word “influenza” on them (influenza deaths for this season are running a bit over 12,000 by the actual count method).

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