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East Texas health officials worry about misinformation related to CDC data on COVID-19 deaths, comorbidities

A new report shows 94% of COVID-19 victims had coexisting conditions listed on their death certificates, prompting social media doubts about the virus.

TYLER, Texas — Doctors have said since the beginning of the pandemic that people with ongoing health concerns are most at risk from COVID-19. We now know how true that is, but the results have caused even more disinformation to spread, leading to concern among local health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data showing that, of all the Americans who have died and had COVID-19 on their death certificate, only 6% had it as the only cause listed.

“Which doesn’t accurately reflect the impact of the disease,” Dr. Tom Cummins said.

Dr. Cummins is the Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas. He says there are two reasons why that figure is misleading. The first is that death certificates include everything that led to a person’s death.

“And so, it’s rare that you would ever see one that only had one disease,” he explained. “For example, COVID, we know, can cause heart attacks and strokes. That might be what technically ended someone’s life, but they had it because they had COVID, so it would still be something that the rest of us would attribute to a COVID death.

“I think that’s where some of the confusion about the 6% and, frankly, some of the misinformation that’s being spread on social media and other places is really a little disturbing to me," he said. "Is that it makes it sound like the disease is not that big a deal, it’s all these other things that are killing people. Well, those other things are being caused by the COVID.”

The other reason he gave, is that Americans have high rates of obesity, high blood pressure, asthma, and other chronic conditions that make it harder to fight off infection.

RELATED: CDC expands list of groups at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness

“Those things impact how a disease hits you,” he said. “I think, very clearly, the way public don’t understand how all those things impact your other, the way other diseases hit you.”

The CDC data showed that the average COVID-19 victim had 2.6 coexisting conditions. Dr. Cummins says the best way to prevent them is by living a healthy lifestyle from childhood on.

“Once you have them, it’s a lot harder to get rid of them. Once you have high blood pressure or diabetes, it’s really hard to wind that clock back. So, now you have to go into protection mode and say, ‘okay, I have all these things, how do I keep myself safe in a time of COVID-19, flu season,' because those are the same people who are affected by the flu every year.”

Many people live a long time with conditions like obesity, heart or lung disease, and diabetes, only for them to become deadly in conjunction with COVID-19 or the flu. So, Dr. Cummins says learning the lessons this pandemic has to teach us will save lives this fall and winter.

“Right now, we’re just sort of seeing things happen and reacting to it,” he said. “As we get the chance to start looking backwards, we’ll have a better understanding of how all those things came to be.”

Dr. Cummins says obesity and high blood pressure are the two most common conditions he has seen in patients with severe symptoms from COVID-19.

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