White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci debunked online theories promoted by President Donald Trump that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidance for tallying coronavirus deaths, showing a fraction of total Covid-19 fatalities.
On Sunday, Twitter removed a post retweeted by Trump that claimed the CDC had "quietly" updated its guidance to indicate only 6% of the country's coronavirus death toll — roughly 9,000 deaths — was actually caused by the virus, according to a CNN report. The tweet said the remaining 94% had "other serious illnesses."
Fauci told the ABC program "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that the CDC guidance, last updated on Aug. 26, indicates that of the people who have died from the virus, "a certain percentage of them had nothing else but just Covid." However, people with underlying illnesses also die from Covid-19, he said.
"That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of Covid didn't die of Covid-19. They did," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the program. "So the numbers you've been hearing -- there are 180,000-plus deaths -- are real deaths from Covid-19. Let (there) not be any confusion about that."
"It's not 9,000 deaths from Covid-19, it's 180-plus-thousand deaths," Fauci said.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics told CNBC in a statement that death certificates list all possible causes or conditions that lead to a person's death, and there may be more than one listed.
There were more than 161,300 death certificates that listed Covid-19 among the possible causes of death as of Aug. 22, according to NCHS. About 6% of the certificates that mention Covid-19 list it as the sole cause on the death certificate. The remaining 94% included other causes alongside Covid-19.
The CDC, however, considers the underlying cause of death as "the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person's death," and in 92% of all deaths that mention Covid-19, the virus was listed as the underlying cause of death, Bob Anderson, lead mortality statistician at NCHS, said in a statement.
"These data are consistent with CDC guidance that those with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for severe illness and death from Covid-19," Anderson said.
He said the number of reported deaths, along with other underlying conditions by age group, does "not represent new information as NCHS has been publishing this same information since the outset when we began posting data on COVID-19 deaths on our web site."
At least 183,600 people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S. as of Tuesday, accounting for just more than 21% of the world's total reported deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
People who are older are at greater risk for serious illness, and possibly death, from Covid-19. The CDC reports that 8 out of 10 Covid-19 deaths reported in the U.S. are people over 65 years old.
The risk is also higher for anyone at any age with underlying health conditions, the CDC says. According to the CDC report, thousands of people of all ages with diabetes and hypertension, among other diseases, have died from Covid-19.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, has previously said that the coronavirus poses a greater risk to those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and significant obesity, which are seen in every age group.
"Remember, those comorbidities span the entire age group. We do know that we have people in the younger age groups with significant Type 1 diabetes and may also have individuals with significant obesity," Birx said during a task force press briefing in June. "We know that those are risk factors, so risk factors go with your comorbidity, not necessarily with your age."