Sometimes I forget things, even important things, simply because no one talks about them and brings them up. That’s how I was reminded of something I’d known but apparently forgotten from National Review of all places. In an article by Spanish journalist Itxu Diaz, he goes over the current European reaction to the coronavirus and mentions something else, far more important:
However, the truth is that lying does not solve the problem: We now know that neither Germany nor France is counting the deaths from coronavirus that occur outside of hospitals, and that the Germans don’t call it “death from coronavirus” if the patient had a previous illness.
This was a head slapping moment for me since of course different countries count and organize their statistics differently, making them difficult to compare across nations. Crime statistics are a good example, since although homicides probably do mean someone got murdered from country to country, most other crimes, like rapes and various assaults have specific legal definitions that vary depending on your country. That’s just as true for other statistics such as infant mortality. Again, referring to yet another National Review article (yes I’m surprised too):
A 2006 report from WHO stated that “among developed countries, mortality rates may reflect differences in the definitions used for reporting births, such as cut-offs for registering live births and birth weight.” The Bulletin of WHO noted that “it has also been common practice in several countries (e.g. Belgium, France, Spain) to register as live births only those infants who survived for a specified period beyond birth”; those who did not survive were “completely ignored for registration purposes.” Since the U.S. counts as live births all babies who show “any evidence of life,” even the most premature and the smallest — the very babies who account for the majority of neonatal deaths — it necessarily has a higher neonatal-mortality rate than countries that do not.
But wait, there’s more!
A separate WHO Bulletin in 2008 noted that registration of stillbirths, live births, and neonatal deaths is done differently in countries where abortion is legal compared with countries where abortion is uncommon or illegal, and these discrepancies generate substantial differences in infant-mortality rates. Jan Richardus showed that the perinatal mortality rate “can vary by 50% depending on which definition is used,” and Wilco Graafmans reported that terminology differences alone among Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. — highly developed countries with substantially different infant-mortality rates — caused rates to vary by 14 to 40 percent, and generated a false reduction in reported infant-mortality rates of up to 17 percent. These differences, coupled with the fact that the U.S. medical system is far more aggressive about resuscitating very premature infants, mean that very premature infants are even more likely to be categorized as live births in the U.S., even though they have only a small chance of surviving. Considering that, even in the U.S., roughly half of all infant mortality occurs in the first 24 hours, the single factor of omitting very early deaths in many European nations generates their falsely superior neonatal-mortality rates.
This is simply an example that comparing statistics across nations, even among the advanced ones, is often a fool’s errand, which of course brings us to counting death by coronavirus. An article in the Spanish paper El País shows how different the count can be.
Italy is counting all patients who tested positive and who died, regardless of other aspects of their clinical history, following criteria from the Higher Institute of Health.
In the United Kingdom, until the epidemic became apparent, when a patient died in the hospital from a respiratory disease, the direct cause of the infection was not reported unless legally required…
In France, authorities have only been counting deaths at the country’s 600 hospitals and clinics caring for Covid-19 patients. This leaves out elderly people who die at home or at one of the 7,000 long-term care homes that operate in France.
And in the Netherlands, tests are only conducted on hospitalized patients. The agency in charging of tracking the disease says that the real number could be higher.
The truth is, we don’t know anything that we think we know about coronavirus mortality rates. I don’t even know how the CDC is counting coronavirus deaths in this country. If there were such a thing as a real reporter in the Washington press corps, you would think that one would ask about that, but be warned, don’t hold your breath. If you do hold your breath, and die as a result, you may find yourself counted as a coronavirus statistic.