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Editorial: Don’t jump to unfounded conclusions about data

Global pandemics are complicated and do not easily boil down into single-sentence explanations. That’s particularly true in a country that’s deeply divided and with a significant portion of the population seemingly predisposed to believe what they believe on social media at first glance.

So, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated comorbidities data for COVID-19 deaths, that 6% of U.S. deaths had coronavirus as the only cause was interpreted incorrectly. The update did not prove death counts have been inflated.

A comorbidity is something that occurs in addition to a primary condition and is usually associated with a worse outcome. The table on the CDC’s website that’s the cause of recent hysteria makes that clear when it labels its first column as “conditions contributing to deaths where COVID-19 was listed on the death certificate.” Obesity is an example, but it’s illogical to say someone hospitalized and on a ventilator with COVID-19 died from obesity.

Importantly, comorbidities can also develop as a result of COVID-19.

The public is learning about COVID-19 at the same time as medical and research professionals and, unlike something like the flu, much remains unknown about fundamental facts of the coronavirus and its accompanying disease. Just as global pandemics are complicated to understand, the data behind its effects can be, too. It’s important to follow health precautions as well as digesting information before jumping to unfounded conclusions.

And people should seek out original sources of information rather than settling for what an uncle, cousin or unfamiliar acquaintance says on social media. It’s good to be skeptical. If something seems outlandish, find a second or third source of news to verify it.

A clear, thorough read by most people would prevent the hysteria the country has seen over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data, which is regularly updated.