Thousands Could Be Missing From CDC’s Coronavirus Death Toll, Officials Say

Public health officials told CNN on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic death toll is likely much higher than is being reported. The two federal officials said that the United States' Center for Disease Control and Prevention is using an "antiquated" system to count the reported deaths. They estimate that numbers reaching the CDC could be behind as much as three weeks.

The two federal officials told reporters that there is no way of knowing how much higher the COVID-19 death toll is than reports are saying. They estimate that there could be thousands or even tens of thousands more victims of the virus than the public is hearing. The CDC has acknowledged this error itself, in a note on its website. It reads: "Provisional death counts may not match counts from other sources, such as media reports or numbers from county health departments. Our counts often track 1 — 2 weeks behind other data."

This week, the CDC estimated the coronavirus death count at 60,299 people. However, the more-commonly cited Johns Hopkins University number is at 88,237 at the time of this writing. On Friday, a CNN reporter asked President Donald Trump if he believes the reported death toll is accurate, and he responded: "Those are the numbers that are being reported. I assume they're correct."

Part of the issue is the different ways in which states may report deaths to the CDC. Right now, 63 percent of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are reported within 10 days, with a wide margin of error. "That's part of the problem, we don't know how far of a lag there is, but there definitely is a lag," said one of the officials who spoke to CNN.

"It's hard to say how far behind, but on the weekend, it goes down. Monday and Tuesday, it goes back up. There is some natural lag," they added. "The data that CDC gets is only as good as the data submitted to the agency by the clinics on the frontline and the state health departments. There's varying degrees of states' abilities to use electronic systems to gather and share that data with the CDC."


The CDC is reportedly working on this issue, hoping to modernize its data systems. In addition to these reporting errors, officials have remarked that some deaths might not even be counted among the coronavirus casualties if the patient was never formally diagnosed. Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed this issue during his testimony before the Senate on Tuesday.

"Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number because given the situation, particularly in New York City, when they were really strapped with a very serious challenge to their health care system that there may have been people who died at home who did have Covid, who were not counted as Covid because they never really got to the hospital," he said. "So in direct answer to your question, I think you are correct that the number is likely higher. I don't know exactly what percent higher."