Why a review of Covid-19 deaths by a Johns Hopkins researcher rattled the medical establishment

Special to WorldTribune, December 5, 2020

by David Morgan, Asheville Tribune

A Johns Hopkins analysis has attracted national attention with its conclusion that the overall deaths in the U.S., when compared to prior years, did not increase significantly despite the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Deaths ‘attributed’ to COVID-19 were indeed higher; however, deaths in other key categories, such as from heart disease, chronic respiratory, and flu and pneumonia were down significantly and were very close overall to the increases in those labeled Covid-19 deaths, the report found.

“Genevieve Briand, assistant program director of the Applied Economics master’s degree program at Hopkins, critically analyzed the effect of COVID-19 on U.S. deaths using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in her webinar titled ”COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data,” according to an article published in ‘The Johns Hopkins News-Letter’.

Johns Hopkins University subsequently retracted and apologized for the article, which collided with CDC-aligned narratives, tweeting in explanation that “the article was being used to support false and dangerous inaccuracies about the impact of the pandemic.”

“However, it is our responsibility as journalists to provide a historical record,” the author of the newsletter article wrote in the explanation which included a link to a pdf of the original article in the interests of “transparency.”

A highly plausible explanation for the phenomenon the article addressed is that the CDC classified all deaths related to COVID-19 simply as COVID-19 deaths.

“Even patients dying from other underlying diseases but that are infected with COVID-19 count as COVID-19 deaths. This is likely the main reason as to why COVID-19 deaths drastically increased while deaths by all other diseases experienced a significant decrease,” the newsletter article about Briand’s report said.

Given the rather powerful logic in Briand’s findings, we are republishing excerpts from the original “Johns Hopkins News-Letter” article below.

From mid-March to mid-September, U.S. total deaths have reached 1.7 million, of which 200,000, or 12 percent of total deaths, are COVID-19-related. Instead of looking directly at COVID-19 deaths, Briand focused on total deaths per age group and per cause of death in the U.S. and used this information to shed light on the effects of COVID-19.

She explained that the significance of COVID-19 on U.S. deaths can be fully understood only through comparison to the number of total deaths in the United States.

After retrieving data on the CDC website, Briand noticed that, surprisingly, the total deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19.

Since COVID-19 mainly effects the elderly, experts expected an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups. However, this increase is not seen from the CDC data. In fact, the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same.

There’s a simple reason we have a higher number of reported COVID-19 deaths among older individuals than younger individuals, Briand explained. Every day in the U.S. older individuals die in higher numbers than younger individuals. The article continued:

Not only has COVID-19 had no effect on the percentage of deaths of older people, but it has also not increased the total number of deaths.

These data analyses suggest that in contrast to most people’s assumptions, the number of deaths by COVID-19 is not alarming. In fact, it has relatively no effect on total deaths in the United States.

This comes as a shock to many people. How is it that the data lie so far from our perception?

To answer that question, Briand shifted her focus to the deaths per causes. Analysis of deaths per cause in 2018 revealed that the pattern of seasonal increase in the total number of deaths is a result of the rise in deaths by all causes, with the top three being heart disease, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia. This is true every year.

When Briand looked at the 2020 data during that seasonal period, COVID-19-related deaths exceeded deaths from heart diseases. This was highly unusual since heart disease has always prevailed as the leading cause of deaths. However, when taking a closer look at the death numbers, she noted something strange. As Briand compared the number of deaths per cause during that period in 2020 to 2018, she noticed that instead of the expected drastic increase across all causes, there was a significant decrease in deaths due to heart disease

Even more surprising, this sudden decline in deaths is observed for all other causes.

This trend is completely contrary to the pattern observed in all previous years. Interestingly, the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19. This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19.

The CDC classified all deaths that are related to COVID-19 simply as COVID-19 deaths. Even patients dying from other underling diseases but are infected with COVID-19 count as COVID-19 deaths. This is likely the main reason as to why COVID-19 deaths drastically increased while deaths by all other diseases experienced a significant decrease.

All of this points to no evidence that COVID-19 created any excess deaths. Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers. We found no evidence to the contrary, Briand concluded.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Briand addressed the question of whether COVID-19 deaths can be called misleading since the infection might have exacerbated and even led to deaths by other underling diseases.

If [the COVID-19 death toll] was not misleading at all, what we should have observed is an increased number of heart attacks and increased COVID-19 numbers. But a decreased number of heart attacks and other death causes doesn’t give us a choice but to point to some misclassification, Briand replied.

In other words, the effect of COVID-19 on deaths in the U.S. is considered problematic only when it increases the total number of deaths or the true death burden by a significant amount in addition to the expected deaths by other causes.

The since-retracted ‘Johns Hopkins News-Letter’ article concluded by quoting Briand’s assertions that COVID-19 is “still a serious national and global problem” and that more research is needed. However, Briand said, society should not lose sight of the bigger picture which is “death in general.”

“Since the crude number of total deaths by all causes before and after COVID-19 has stayed the same, one can hardly say, in Briand’s view, that COVID-19 deaths are concerning,” the article said.

Indeed. And that raises some very important questions that the national media should be focused on as our nation finds itself in a constitution crisis over the botched elections of Nov. 3, 2020. This crisis is due in large part to how the media and medical establishment shaped public perceptions about COVID-19.

David Morgan is publisher of the Asheville Tribune in Asheville, NC.