Letter to Editor: A Different View of Covid Death Statistics

~ Submitted by Roy Mallory

In the December 22 edition of the Bedford Citizen, Mike Rosenberg reported on a meeting of the Board of Health.  Board member Dr. Ann Kiessling [Opinion Editor’s Note: Kiessling holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Biophysics] quoted as making statements that I find surprising and somewhat disturbing.  She claimed that in every age cohort under 65, the percentage of deaths from COVID was 0.6% or less.  CDC presents cumulative COVID-19 deaths sorted by age and sex at this website:  https://data.cdc.gov/widgets/9bhg-hcku?mobile_redirect=true  I extracted that portion of the tabular data for both sexes of all ages for the purpose of calculating percentages.  The results are summarized in the table.

These data show far different statistics, with young and middle-aged adults experiencing death rates far greater than 0.6%.  Dr. Kiessling uses her statistics to claim, “This is a disease of people 65 and older,” which is demonstrably false irrespective of the exact death statistics.

Chart (c) Roy Mallory, 2021 all rights reserved ~ Click to view full-size chart

There are two serious problems with her statement.  First, the death rate is not the only measure of a disease.  Morbidity must be assessed as well as mortality.  Many people under 65 have contracted COVID-19, and although most did not die, many were very sick, many ended up in the ICU kept alive by a ventilator, and, perhaps saddest of all, many have ended up with long-haul symptoms.  This last group may well suffer with one or more debilitating symptoms for the rest of their lives. Second, one must consider the societal and economic impacts, both of which have been severe.  In addition, we must remember that these horrific deaths occurred despite the lockdown, despite the closing of businesses and schools, despite social distancing, despite mask usage, and despite the vaccines.

Dr. Kiessling compares COVID-19 deaths to fentanyl deaths, which seems particularly inapt.  COVID-19 is an infectious and highly transmissible disease, and fentanyl abuse is neither. Further, what is she trying to imply?  People die from many causes.  What does that have to do with COVID-19 deaths?  She could have mentioned that cancer deaths in the US are about 600,000 per year.  Would the implication be that we needn’t be too concerned with diseases that cause fewer deaths than that?

Dr. Kiessling also asserts, “This virus was never the deadly agent we thought it was.”  Who’s “we” and what did we think of its potential for death?  Without qualification, this is a meaningless statement and therefore of no particular interest or import.  Throughout the pandemic, the news outlets I frequented stated a death rate of about 2% to 3%, which is reasonably accurate.  I was thus never deceived as to COVID-19’s deadliness, and I suspect millions of other Americans heard or read the same statistics as did I.

Dr. Kiessling goes on to state, “I am not trying to trivialize the disease, but people should realize where it stands.”  Well, where it stands is having caused over 800,000 deaths in the US, with many more to come.  We encountered two new strains in 2021 alone, and, sadly, others will almost surely arise.  Economic and societal impacts have been substantial, if not profound.  Despite her claim, my interpretation of Dr. Kiessling’s statements is that she is indeed trivializing COVID-19.

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Robert Kalantari
Robert Kalantari
4 months ago

Speaking of misinformation, the data and statistics you listed here have nothing to do with the data that Dr. Kiessling provided regarding her research and extrapolation of the CDC data to come up with the percentage of death due to Covid infection in different age groups. What Dr. Kiessling is showing is the percentage of death rate for those who were infected with Covid, what you show here is totally different data, you are simply showing what percentage of people in each age group have died from Covid, this is like comparing apples and potatoes. While it is true that the percentage of people who died from Covid is a lot more in older people, the same will be true about many other illnesses. For example 46% of all people who die from cancer are age 70 or older and 41% are between age 50 and 69. Based on this 87% of all cancer deaths are in people older than 50. Sorry, your assessment and comparison of the Covid data is totally misleading. Please do not provide such misleading information.

Heather Randhahn
Heather Randhahn
4 months ago

Well said. Thank you.

Paul J Bradford
Paul J Bradford
4 months ago

The table included in this letter is not refuting Dr. Kiessling’s claim, which according to Mike Rosenberg is that “in every age cohort under 65, the percentage of deaths among those with Covid-19 is six-tenths of one percent or less.” Dr. Kiessling’s claim is about the percentage of people who got Covid who died. The table has no information about the number of people in each age group who got Covid, or the percentage in each age group who got Covid and died from it.

Roy Mallory
Roy Mallory
4 months ago

I think the issue your are referring to is whether one is computing the COVID deaths of some cohort as a percent of all those who died from COVID, or, rather, the percent of deaths of that cohort as compared to all people who got COVID, or even the total population of the country. I think the first category, which is what my table shows, is the more interesting statistic, because it explicitly shows how COVID deaths are distributed by age.

Choice of a statistic can make almost any disease appear to be insignificant. For example, about 132,000 people die from lung cancer every year. That is about 0.04% of the population of the country. That statistic might suggest to some people that lung cancer is hardly of any concern.

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