Letter from the Editor: Statistical resurrection in Colorado


Opinion

President Trump wanted to open American in time to celebrate the Resurrection on this past Easter Sunday, but he could not make it happen.  Coloradans, however, are getting a second chance to celebrate a different kind of resurrection this weekend.

The state woke up Saturday to learn that 272 of its previously reported 1,150  COVID-19 deaths or about 20 percent did not succumb to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, it’s just a statistical resurrection as these individuals are dead, just not from COVID-19.

It’s red faces all around at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). It was caught counting as COVID-19 deaths instances where the attending physicians and coroners said otherwise.

That might be a bureaucratic detail in some states, but in Colorado, anyone falsifying death reports can go to prison. And anyone includes the state’s chief medical officer.

The state set back its COVID-19 death count to 878 shortly after learning a possible criminal investigation was opened by 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. He learned of the apparent death certificate falsifications from Republican Rep. Mark Baiseley, who in turn responded to a complaint by a local hospice that tracks death certificates from that facility very closely. Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora Theater murders, is one of the state’s most respected state attorneys.

Some falsifying death certificate stories are all but absurd. A Montezuma County man found dead in a park with a blood-alcohol level of 550 mg., about three times more than required to kill someone. It was ruled alcohol poisoning by the local coroner but was changed to COVID-19 by CDPHE.

Outside of Colorado, there are reports that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for inflating coronavirus statistics by as much as 25 percent. The Washington Post reported White House Task Force Dr. Deborah Birx told CDC Director Robert Redfield that “there is nothing from CDC that I can trust.”

When this is all over, I favor auditing everybody’s numbers.

Protestors who want to open up Colorado’s private sector are descending on the State Capitol in Denver today in what promises to be the largest of several recent outpourings of demands to end entirely the regulating the economy from the health department over the virus. Church services are also resuming in defiance of Gov. Jared Polis’s order that they remain closed.

In a White House meeting this past week, Trump told Polis he was doing a good job. Protestors today are expected to blame Polis for inflated COVID-19 deaths to keep his reign over the state economy intact

How and when to count death certificates has come up before for both CDPHE and CDC. Colorado’s 2011 Listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupe was also a killer. In the U.S. and Canada during the past decade, Listeria has had a 20 to 40 percent fatality rate. Colorado’s poison cantaloupe in 2011 was among the worse with at least 33 of 147 cases in 28-states resulting in deaths.  All but four patients required hospital stays.

And it did not stop there.

“Ten other deaths not attributed to listeriosis occurred among persons who had been infected with an outbreak-associated subtype, CDC reported. “State and local public health officials reviewed causes of death listed on death certificates to determine whether to attribute these deaths to listeriosis. Deaths included in this review occurred as recently as February 29, 2012.”

Whether there were 33 or 43 deaths was the difference between a fatality rate of 22.4 percent or 29.2 percent. At that time we had several discussions with CDPHE and CDC, and various coroners and medical examiners.

I thought a cause of death determination should be a “but for” question. Would the person still be alive “but for” being sickened by said pathogen? But little did I know. I was introduced to the “California death certificate,” which allows the medical examiner or attending physician to write a small novel on the cause of a person’s death.

I’ve come to think of it this way. It takes a lot to keep us alive and it takes a lot go kill us off.  We needn’t make it too simple, but there is also no need to inflate the COVID-19 death numbers. They are staggering all on their own.

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