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CDC statistic on COVID-19 deaths does not mean only 6 percent died of the virus

The CDC said 6 percent died of COVID-19 alone, 94 percent died of the coronavirus and contributing conditions, some of which may have been caused by the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control said six percent of COVID-19 deaths were from COVID alone, but the claim that the virus killed only 9,000 Americans is incorrect. Most deaths from the coronavirus had causes in addition to COVID, not instead of it.

Online posts from Tennessee State Representatives Jeremy Faison and Jason Zachary point to incomplete information also amplified in a false claim, reportedly posted by President Donald Trump and removed by Twitter.

It cites data from the CDC that said six percent of COVID-19 deaths (or roughly 9,000 Americans) were from the virus alone, but downplays the full data which show the remaining deaths had contributing causes in addition to the coronavirus. 

It comes as the United States surpasses six million coronavirus cases and 183,000 deaths, worse than many other nations. 

The CDC website reads "For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death."

This means 94 percent of people who died of the virus in the US had other conditions, which contributed to their death in addition to COVID-19.

This echoes information public health doctors have shared since the pandemic began that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of complications and death due to the coronavirus. 

These include older people and people with chronic breathing problems, diabetes and high blood pressure, among other health conditions. 

The CDC statistic does not mean that 94 percent of people listed as COVID-19 deaths are listed incorrectly. It means 94 percent of people died of COVID-19 and something else.

In Tennessee, state public health officials have been careful to only count people who die as consequence of the coronavirus in the state's death totals. 

In a July Department of Health Webinar, the State Chief Medical Examiner said she is reviewing every death certificate that mentions COVID-19 to double check the difference between dying of the virus and dying with the virus.

"If the COVID accelerated the demise, that should be coded as a COVID death," Dr. Adele Lewis said. 

For example, people who die in car wrecks and test positive for the coronavirus will not count as COVID-19 deaths, she said.   

The bottom line: Most deaths from the coronavirus had causes in addition to COVID, but not instead of it.

In posts online, Reps. Faison and Zachary disputed the characterization of their tweets in this article.