Miscounting Covid: An original investigation by Sharyl Attkisson

As hindsight comes into clearer focus, we’re learning a lot about mistaken advice and policies amid the Covid-19 pandemic. One still murky and disputed area involves the death toll, now upwards of 640,000 in the U.S., according to CDC. Some insist the true count is much higher; others claim it’s lower. Today, we begin with the startling results of our investigation that found in some documented cases, news that Covid was the cause of death was greatly exaggerated.

Grand County, Colorado, rural country a hundred miles outside of Denver.

Thanksgiving 2020, Lucais Reilly shoots his wife Kristin in the head, then turns the gun on himself, committing suicide. They have alcohol and drugs in their system and a history of domestic troubles.

Grand County coroner Brenda Bock explains how the small town tragedy is exposing serious questions about the way Covid deaths are counted.

Brenda Bock: I had a homicide-suicide the end of November, and the very next day it showed up on the state website as Covid deaths. And they were gunshot wounds. And I questioned that immediately because I had not even signed off the death certificates yet, and the state was already reporting them as Covid deaths.

Bock says somebody, somewhere had apparently run the couple’s names through a database showing they’d tested positive for Covid within 28 days of their death. Then recorded them as Covid deaths even though they died of gunshots.

READ: Why did Colorado stonewall on documents about Covid-19 death counts?

Sharyl: If we look at the death certificates for the murder-suicide case, what will it say about Covid?

Bock: Nothing, absolutely nothing. I paid a forensic pathologist to do the autopsies on those two cases. And nowhere is COVID mentioned on those death certificates. Nowhere.

Bock: This is a copy of the death certificate, and nowhere does it say COVID. So we have a homicide, suicide, nothing to do with COVID.

Because there had been no Covid deaths within the geographic boundaries of Grand County in 2020, Bock was in a unique position to challenge the state’s accounting. In many cities and counties, the numbers are too big and the coroners would never know about discrepancies.

Within a week of the murder-suicide, two more Grand County deaths popped up on the state’s Covid count. Bock investigated and found out why she had no record of them.

Bock: Two of them were actually still alive, and yet they were counting them. Had I not called them on it and asked them who those were, where were they from, all the information about it and it’s like, “Oh, well that was a typo. They just got put in there by accident.”

Merrit Linke: The coroner did officially talk to us at one of our regular Tuesday County Commission meetings about this discrepancy in how the state was reporting our COVID numbers.

Merrit Linke is chair of the Grand County Board of Commissioners.

Linke: We drafted and signed a letter, all three Commissioners, and the coroner also signed, and sent it to the governor, saying “Hey, these numbers are not correct. It’s not right. We should report these correctly, and please fix this.”

It wasn’t just happening in Grand County. Dr. James Caruso is chief medical examiner and coroner for Denver.

Dr. James Caruso: I was told by some of my fellow coroners in the more rural counties in Colorado that it was happening to them, that they knew of issues where they had signed out a death certificate with perhaps trauma involved. And they were being advised that it was being counted as a Covid-related death.

Sharyl: When it comes to counting Coronavirus deaths, tell me what the story was, of what you discovered early on. What was happening?

Dr. Caruso: I think early on, the people signing the death certificates probably were doing it accurately. But at some level–maybe the state level, maybe the federal level–there’s a possibility that they were cross-referencing Covid tests. And that people who tested positive for Covid were listed as a Covid-related death, regardless of their true cause of death. And I believe that’s very erroneous, and not the way the statistics needed to be accumulated.

Denver Medical Examiner Dr. James Caruso

Caruso says he voiced his objections in April 2020 with the Colorado Department of Public Health.

Sharyl: How did you raise your concerns?

Caruso: I told them very clearly that someone can die “of” COVID or they can die “with” COVID. And the two are very different.

Others were also questioning the state’s count.

Bock: We had the coroner in Montezuma county. He had a death, an alcohol death, and it was counted as Covid. And he’s the one that I guess got the ball rolling and started complaining.

As a result of the complaints, the state added subcategories showing number of deaths “Of” Covid and deaths “With Covid.” But months later, with the murder-suicide, there were still questions.

Sharyl: “Of Covid” presumably means the death is thought to have been caused directly by Covid.

Brenda Bock: Directly.

Sharyl: And “with COVID” means?

Bock: You had other underlying conditions.

Sharyl: Okay. So the murder-suicide should not have been counted under either of those categories?

Bock: Right. And that’s what I complained about. And then when I did talk to the Governor, he told me he didn’t believe it was right, but he wasn’t going to have them remove it from the count because all the other states were doing it that way so we were going to also.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis declined our interview request. A spokesman said the governor agrees with Grand County coroner Bock and was “outraged” that a murder-suicide is recorded as Covid-related. “In an effort to be abundantly clear,” the governor adds, the state website explains that “some numbers combine deaths that were a direct result of COVID and deaths that occurred when the individual had COVID-19.”

During our visit to Colorado, the state’s total Covid-related death tally was 13,845. Separating out the deaths not directly caused by Covid cuts that number by about half with the rest dying “among” or “with” Covid — not because of it.

Sharyl (on-camera): The obvious implications are huge. If such a significant number of Colorado’s “Covid deaths” weren’t directly caused by Covid, or even related at all in some cases, and if that bears out in other states, it means the national totals we’ve heard since the start of the pandemic could be largely misleading.

Dr. Deborah Birx (April 7, 2020): So I think in this country we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality.

The same time Colorado’s coroners were challenging the death count, Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was being asked about the same thing.

Birx (April 7, 2020): The intent is right now, that if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.

Some of the eyebrow-raising examples of deaths attributed to covid include— Fatalities after traffic accidents, three Colorado nursing home deaths, even though the attending physicians said they weren’t related to coronavirus.

And a case in Nashville, Tennessee. In August 2020, Hal Short’s wife was stunned to see Covid-19 named as the cause on her husband’s death certificate— after he died of an aggressive cancer. He’d tested negative for coronavirus three times. Only after the family complained, was Covid-19 removed a clerical error blamed.

Mrs. Short: “That’s really not good enough, just saying I want, just saying ‘we made a mistake’ and we just forget about it. How many other people are you making this mistake with?

Government experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci claim, without evidence, there are likely far more Covid deaths than documented; not fewer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (May 12, 2020): That the number is likely higher, I don’t know exactly what percent higher, but almost certainly it is higher.

Adding to the confusion— widely-cited sources, from the New York Times to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard compile and report different numbers. Johns Hopkins notes that “States are not consistent [and] may even retroactively change the numbers they report.”

Short of a national audit, some of the best hard evidence can only be found in small places like Grand County, Colorado where they know precisely who did or didn’t die of what within the county limits. And where Bock says there were no Covid deaths in 2020.

Bock: Not as far as I’m concerned.

But when we checked in July, the New York Times tally over-reported Grand County’s 2020 Covid death toll by least 500%. It was missing one resident who reportedly died of Covid outside of the county. But the Times counted the unrelated heart attack; the two people who were alive – which were removed from the state total; and the murder-suicide of Lucais and Kristin Reilly.

Sharyl: What are the implications nationwide when we’re looking at numbers then?

Bock: I believe they’re very inflated. And don’t get me wrong. I believe Covid is real. And I believe people do get very sick from it. And I do believe a small number do die from that. I do not believe a homicide-suicide belongs in that number. I don’t, because my job is to tell the truth about why a person died, the cause and the manner. And I don’t believe that what’s going on is the truth.

Sharyl (On-camera): Alameda County, California changed their methodology in June to remove deaths that weren’t a direct result of Covid. That removed more than 400 people, or 25%, from their death toll.


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30 thoughts on “Miscounting Covid: An original investigation by Sharyl Attkisson”

  1. John F. McGowan, Ph.D.

    This may be of interest:

    Recommendations for Improving the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Data Practices for Pneumonia, Influenza, and COVID-19

    This is a preprint of a new academic paper written by Tam Hunt, Josh Mitteldorf, Ph.D. and myself on the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s data practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and for pneumonia and influenza prior to the pandemic. I am the corresponding author.


    During the pandemic, millions of Americans have become acquainted with the CDC because its reports and the data it collects affect their day-to-day lives. But the methodology used and even some of the data collected by CDC remain opaque to the public and to the community of academic epidemiology. In this paper, we highlight areas in which CDC methodology might be improved and where greater transparency might lead to broad collaboration. (1) “Excess” deaths are routinely reported, but not “years of life lost”, an easily-computed datum that is important for public policy. (2) What counts as an “excess death”? The method for computing the number of excess deaths does not include error bars and we show a substantial range of estimates is possible. (3) Pneumonia and influenza death data on different CDC pages is grossly contradictory. (4) The methodology for computing influenza deaths is not described in sufficient detail that an outside analyst might pursue the source of the discrepancy. (5) Guidelines for filling out death certificates have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing the comparison of 2020-21 death profiles with any previous year. We conclude with a series of explicit recommendations for greater consistency and transparency, and ultimately to make CDC data more useful to outside epidemiologists.

    John F. McGowan, Ph.D., Tam Hunt, Josh Mitteldorf. Improving CDC Data Practices Recommendations for Improving the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Data Practices for Pneumonia, Influenza, and COVID-19. Authorea. July 19, 2021.
    https://doi.org/10.22541/au.162671168.86830026/v1 (Click on this URL to view the preprint)


    In light of the previous discussion, we make a number of recommendations to improve CDC’s data practices, including improved observance of common scientific and engineering practice – such as use of significant figures and reporting of statistical and systematic errors. Common scientific and engineering practice is designed to prevent serious errors and should be followed rigorously in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Note that some of these recommendations may require changes in federal or state laws, federal or state regulations, or renegotiation of contracts between the federal government and states. This is probably the case for making the Deaths Master File (DMF), with names and dates of death of persons reported as deceased to the states and federal government, freely available to the public and other government agencies.

    • All CDC numbers, where possible, should be clearly identified as estimates, adjusted counts, or raw counts, with statistical errors and systematic errors given, using consistent clear standard language in all documents. The errors should be provided as both ninety-five percent (95%) confidence level intervals and the standard deviation – at least for the statistical errors.

    • In the case of adjusted counts, the raw count should be explicitly listed immediately following the adjusted count as well as a brief description of the adjustment and a reference for the adjustment methodology. For example, if the adjusted number of deaths in the United States in 2020 is 3.4 million but the raw count of deaths was 3.3 million with 100,000 deaths added to adjust for unreported deaths of undocumented immigrants, the web pages and reports would say:

    Total deaths (2020): 3.4 million (adjusted, raw count 3.3 million, unreported deaths of undocumented immigrants, adjustment methodology citation: Smith et al, MMWR Volume X, Number Y)

    • The distinction between the leading causes of death report “pneumonia and influenza” deaths, ~55,000 per year pre-pandemic, and the FluView website “pneumonia and influenza” deaths, ~188,000 per year pre-pandemic, should be clarified in the labels and legends for the graphics and prominently in the table of leading causes of death or immediately adjacent text. Statistical and systematic errors on these numbers should be provided in graphs and tables.

    • In general, where grossly different raw counts, adjusted counts, or estimates are presented in CDC documents and websites with the same name, semantically equivalent or nearly equivalent names such as “pneumonia and influenza” and “influenza and pneumonia,” clearly distinct names should be used instead, or the reasons for the gross difference in the values should be prominently listed in the graphs and tables or immediately adjacent text. It should be easy for the public, busy health professionals, policy makers and others to recognize and understand the differences.

    • CDC should provide results for different models for the same data with similar R2 values – coefficient of determination – to give the audience a quick sense of the systematic modeling errors – since there is no generally accepted methodology for estimating the 95% confidence level for the systematic modeling errors. See Figure 7 above for an example.

    • All mathematical models should be free and open source with associated data provided using commonly used free open-source scientific programming languages such as Python or R, made available on the CDC website, GitHub, and other popular sources. The models and data should be provided in a package form such that anyone with access to a standard MS Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux/Unix computer can easily download and run the analysis – similar to the package structure used by the GNU project, for example.

    • Specifically, the influenza virus deaths model should be provided to the public as code and data. The justification for the increase in the number of deaths attributed to influenza (~6,000 to ~55,000) should be presented in clear language with supporting numbers, such as the false positive and negative rates for the laboratory influenza deaths and general diagnosis of influenza in the absence of a positive lab test as well as in the code and data.

    • With respect to excess deaths tracking, include all major select causes of death, rather than just the thirteen (13) in the cause-specific excess deaths that CDC tracks, which currently account for about 2/3 of all deaths.

    • Include a Years of Lives Lost (YLL) display for COVID-19 deathsi and non-COVID-19 deaths, as well as excess deaths analysis, due to the higher granularity of YLL analysis when compared to excess deaths analysis. Explain the pros and cons of both analytical tools. Do the same for any future pandemics or health crises.

    • Adopt or develop a different algorithm or algorithms for tracking excess deaths which are mostly attributed to non-infectious causes such as heart attacks, cancer, and strokes. The Farrington/Noufaily algorithms were specifically developed as an early warning for often non-lethal infectious disease outbreaks such as salmonella. A medically-based model or models that incorporates population demographics such as the aging “baby boom” and evolving death rates broken down by age, sex, and possibly other factors where known is probably a better practice rather than simple empirical trend models such as the Noufaily algorithm.

    • Eliminate the zeroing procedure in calculating excess deaths, in which negative excess deaths in some categories are set to zero, rather than being added to the full excess deaths sum over all categories.

    • The anonymized data with causes of death as close to the actual data as possible, e.g. the actual death certificates, should be available on the CDC website in a simple accessible widely used format such as CSV (comma separated values) files. The code used to aggregate the data into summary data such as the FluView website data files should also be public.

    • The full Deaths Master File (DMF) including the actual names of the deceased persons and dates of death should be made available to the general public, independent researchers, and others. This is critical to independent verification of many numbers from the CDC, SSA, and US Census.

    • COVID-19-related deaths figures should be tracked based on year-specific age of death, rather than 10-year age ranges, as is currently the case.

    • CDC frequently changes the structure and layout of the CSV files/spreadsheets on their websites. The CDC should either (1) not do this or (2) provide easy conversion between different file formats with each new format so it is trivial for third parties to quickly adapt to the changes without writing additional code. CDC should provide a program or program in a free and open source language like R to convert between the formats.

    • The CDC and other agencies should be required to announce and solicit public comment for changes to case definitions, data collection rules, etc. for key public policy data such as the COVID-19 case definitions, death certification guidelines, and coding rules. Other government agencies have significantly more public participation than CDC, which is appropriate in a modern democracy.

    • Any practices and policies imposed in a public emergency, such as case definitions, definitions of measured quantities, data reporting practices, etc. imposed without public comment and review, should have an expiration date (e.g. sixty days) beyond which they must be subject to public review. Public comment, reviews, and cost/benefit analyses should happen during this emergency period.

    Enacting these reforms should reduce the risk of serious errors, increase the quality and accuracy of CDC data and analyses, as well as any policies or CDC guidelines based on the data and analysis, and strengthen public confidence in the CDC and public health policies.

    1. That’s a great set of recommendations and totally feasible and reasonable, but if you haven’t noticed by now the powers that be have no interest in honesty and transparency and there is no accountability for deception.

    2. This is really worthwhile. I don’t know if Sharyl reads her comments, but I definitely suggest putting this in a comment at Steve Kirsch’s Substack account. He has a large, well-informed following*, actively reads his comments and is always looking for solutions. In a recent posts he wrote about requiring an autopsy of anyone who dies two weeks after a vaccine– that would be a great place for this

      *I know Sharyl does too. I just don’t know how many read these comments!

  2. A peer-reviewed scientific study concluded that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention violated federal law by inflating Coronavirus fatality numbers. The study states that the figures were inflated by at least 1600%! So, in actuality, if you divide how many “they say” have died from COVID, 595,000, by 16 you get closer to the actual number of deaths: 37,186, which is about half the deaths of a severe flu season.

    States have gotten large government funds for each reported COVID patient. In 2020, West Virginia got $471,000 per COVID patient reported. Think amounts like those didn’t incentivize states to report as many deaths as possible as COVID deaths?

    According to the Public Health Initiative of the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, which published the study, titled “COVID-19 Data Collection, Comorbidity & Federal Law: A Historical Retrospective”, the COVID numbers were inflated to create fear and compliance.

    Another COVID-19 whistleblower has come forward, and this time it’s a Montana doctor. She says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (run by the United States government) is asking medical doctors to drastically overstate COVID-19 deaths to panic the public into “relinquishing cherished freedoms.”

    Dr. Annie Bukacek, MD, is a longtime Montana physician with over 30 years of experience practicing medicine. Signing death certificates is a routine part of her job and she’s been asked to label deaths that have nothing to do with the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths.

    COVID-19 was to be listed in Part I of death certificates as a definitive cause of death, regardless of confirmatory evidence, rather than in Part II as a contributor to death in the presence of pre-existing conditions.

    On its website, the CDC says, just 6% of the people counted as COVID-19 deaths actually died of COVID-19.

    The researchers estimated the COVID-19 recorded fatalities “are inflated nationwide by as much as 1600% above what they would be had the CDC used the 2003 handbooks,” said All Concerned Citizens.

    Study Results: CDC Inflated COVID Numbers By 1600%

    State-by-state breakdown of federal aid per COVID-19 case

  3. Great reporting Sharyl!

    Seems to be a problem with the comments count though. The top of the article said 12 comments but I only counted 4. Are you using a CDC style counter?

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