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State health officer: Theory of low CDC COVID-19 death toll is “deliberate misinterpretation”


Alabama Sen. Doug Jones held an online news conference with Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, and during the conference, Harris was asked about bloggers and social media personalities claiming that only 6 percent of COVID-19 deaths are actually due to the virus.

The bloggers — some of the affiliated with the conspiracy theory group QAnon — are referring to a CDC report, which found that only 6 percent of COVID-19 deaths were among people with no underlying health conditions that also contributed to their death.

Harris said that the people creating those memes are making a “deliberate misinterpretation of the data.” Harris said that the CDC report is referring to death certificates on which the coroner writes causes of death. The person may have had breathing difficulties or pneumonia on the death certificate.

Many internet and radio commentators have leaped on the CDC report to claim that the virus is not as deadly as it is being portrayed in the media.

Reporters also asked if there will be a danger of people spreading misinformation against a future COVID-19 vaccine.

“Please rely on people who are professionally experienced and trained” for your health and medical advice, Harris said. “There are way too many people with crazy conspiracy theories or just axes to grind.”

Jones echoed that.

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“Listen to the experts like Dr. Harris and Dr. Fauci, listen to Dr. Marrazzo and Selwyn Vickers at UAB,” Jones said. “I believe that at some point we are going to have a vaccine, either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. … There are people who don’t trust any vaccine, they don’t even get the flu vaccine.”

Jones said that the Senate Health Committee, of which he is a member, is having a hearing next week on vaccines, their benefits and the good that they do.

“We need to keep politics out of this,” Jones said. “We have seen a steady stream of misinformation from public officials over the last six months.”

“Don’t let the politics determine what you do or what you don’t do,” Jones added. “People need to listen to people like you, Dr. Harris, not the politicians.”

“We don’t know what the flu season is going to look like,” Harris said.

Everyone over the age of six months, even people allergic to the flu vaccine, should get the vaccine this year. Harris said that there are ways for your doctor to administer the vaccine safely even if you have an allergy to it.

“It is very important that people get the flu vaccine this year,” Harris said. “We don’t need a massive flu outbreak on top of the coronavirus.”

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Jones and Harris urged citizens not to lower their guard over the approaching Labor Day holiday weekend.

“If you are 65 years or older and you get the virus, there is a one in ten chance that you are not going to survive,” Harris said. “We know that people are fatigued, but this is not the time to let their guard down.”

“We really don’t want Labor Day to look like Independence Day,” Harris said.

Total cases and deaths all peaked in the state just weeks after the Fourth of July holiday, Harris explained.

“Don’t let you guard down even outside,” Jones said. “The virus can spread with a sneeze or a cough.”

“Your health is dependent on my health, and my health is dependent on your health,” Jones explained.

Harris said that African-Americans make up about 25 percent of the Alabama population and the COVID cases, but African-Americans compose up to 40 percent of the COVID deaths. Harris said that this is not different from other health issues.

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Black Americans often have a much poorer outcome with heart disease or cervical cancer than white Americans because of underlying conditions and inequalities within the health care system.

“They are more likely to have chronic health problems on average that predispose them to bad outcomes,” Harris said. “We recognize that people have barriers to care.”

“Alabama needs to expand Medicaid,” Jones said. “It would help build that (healthcare) infrastructure and keep our rural hospitals open.”

Jones said that Congress should pass legislation to help states like Alabama to expand Medicaid.

“I am still hopeful that Congress can do something though I fear that the window is closing,” Jones said.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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