VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Ex-education usec echoes viral false claim on 'cut' in US COVID-19 deaths

Former Education undersecretary and 2019 senatorial aspirant Antonio “Butch” Valdes propagated an incorrect claim about the United States (U.S.) Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) “finally admitting” that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) death count in the U.S. is way less than was originally reported.

The claim, which first circulated abroad, was included in a Facebook (FB) post of Valdes calling President Rodrigo Duterte’s attention to the supposed “negligence and corrupt nature” of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

STATEMENT

On Aug. 31, Valdes published an FB status update telling the president he was “duped” by Duque who “totally relied” on CDC pronouncements in his decision-making amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To support this, Valdes said:

“The CDC-WHO has finally admitted that the number of deaths in the US is only 9000, and not 160000 as previously reported.”

Source: Butch Valdes official Facebook account, “Mr President , you have been duped by Sec Duque re the COVID-19 virus…,” Aug. 31, 2020

Valdes added that Duque “refused to consider other alternative sources” or conduct his own research to verify proposed COVID-19 treatment methods.

FACT

Neither CDC nor WHO has made such a revision in the COVID-19 death tally in the U.S.

The claim that there are only 9,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. and not 160,000 is a wrong interpretation of CDC’s COVID-19 data.

VF Fact Check: Ex-education usec echose viral false claim on 'cut' in US COVID-19 deaths. Image of Valdes Facebook post.

Some FB posts, tweets, and an article by far-right news website The Gateway Pundit -- all of which circulated as early as Aug. 29 in the U.S. -- interpreted this figure incorrectly, saying CDC “quietly updated” its data to show that only six percent or around 9,000 of the over 153,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. as of Aug. 29 actually died from the disease.

The wrong claim, which was further amplified by U.S. President Donald Trump in a now-deleted retweet, said the remaining 94 percent had “other serious illnesses” and are of old age -- insinuating that the deaths should not be attributed solely to the viral disease.

Jeff Lancashire, acting associate director for communications of CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), confirmed in an email to Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact that 94 percent of the death certificates, in fact, cited other medical conditions -- or comorbidities -- alongside COVID-19.

However, he clarified that 92 percent of the deaths still have COVID-19 as their “underlying cause of death,” defined by Lancashire as “the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death.”

Additionally, Bob Anderson, chief for Mortality Statistics of the NCHS, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) that despite comorbidities, the death of a person who, for instance, had pneumonia caused by COVID-19, would be counted only once and recorded as a death due to COVID-19.

Anderson added that the six percent of mortality which has COVID-19 as its sole cause of death may be cases of death certificates containing insufficient detail on other conditions that COVID-19 could have possibly brought an individual.

He told AFP “it would be rare” that a person dies of COVID-19 alone.

For WHO’s part, the organization maintains that people who are above 60 years old and who have pre-existing medical conditions that affect their immune system are more at risk in experiencing a “more severe” case of COVID-19.

As of Sept. 14, the U.S. has already recorded around 6.5 million COVID-19 cases with over 193,700 deaths, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker.

Valdes’ post came as the Philippine government continues to face criticisms over its pandemic response, with the most recent controversy being the P15 billion corruption mess, which revived calls for Duque’s resignation as Health Secretary.


Sources

News5Everywhere Youtube channel, APLIKANTE SA SENADO - BUTCH VALDES, Feb. 28, 2019

GMA Public Affairs Youtube channel, Investigative Documentaries: Nagtulak kay Butch Valdes para tumakbong senador, alamin, Feb. 22, 2019

Butch Valdes official Facebook account, “Mr President , you have been duped by Sec Duque re the COVID-19 virus…,” Aug. 31, 2020

Lexico.com, Comorbidity, July 14, 2019

Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Sept. 9, 2020

President Trump Fans Facebook page, “This week the CDC quietly updated…,” Aug. 29, 2020

Matt Nelson for District 4 California State Assembly Facebook page, “CDC COVID UPDATE…,” Aug. 29, 2020

Jenna Ellis official Twitter account, “SHOCK REPORT: This Week CDC Quietly Updated…,” Aug. 29, 2020

The Gateway Pundit, SHOCK REPORT: This Week CDC Quietly Updated COVID-19 Numbers – Only 9,210 Americans Died From COVID-19 Alone – Rest Had Different Other Serious Illnesses, Aug. 29, 2020

President Donald Trump official Twitter account, “RT @littllemel: “This week the CDC quietly updated the Covid number…,” Aug. 30, 2020

PolitiFact, No, the CDC did not ‘quietly adjust’ US coronavirus deaths, Aug. 31, 2020

Agence France-Presse, Trump retweets false claim that CDC cut Covid-19 death toll by 94 percent, Sept. 1, 2020

World Health Organization, COVID-19: vulnerable and high risk groups, May 13, 2020

Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by State, Sept. 14, 2020

Inquirer.net, P15 billion went to PhilHealth ‘syndicate’ – whistleblower, Aug. 5, 2020

CNN Philippines, Whistleblower claims ₱15 billion stolen by PhilHealth execs in fraud schemes, Aug. 4, 2020

Philstar.com, Whistleblower accuses PhilHealth execs of stealing P15 billion through fraud schemes, Aug. 4, 2020

Senate of the Philippines official Youtube channel, Senate Session No. 5, Sept. 1, 2020

Senate of the Philippines, Senate Resolution No. 362, April 16, 2020

Twitter Search, “#DuqueResign” and “Philhealth,” n.d.


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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