JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In less than six months, Mississippi has recorded more than 3,000 additional deaths compared with previous years, with state health officials pointing to the coronavirus pandemic as the source of these “excess deaths.”
The information, released earlier this month by state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, seems to disprove a popular Facebook claim that most people labeled as COVID-19 deaths didn’t die from that disease.
“We normally have x deaths and now have x plus another number of deaths and it’s going to be because of coronavirus. There is absolutely no way to explain around it," Dobbs said.
Several people on blogs and social media quickly assumed that those who had COVID and cancer, for example, died of cancer but were being counted as a COVID-19 death.
Many Mississippians claimed those with underlying conditions, which accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Mississippi and the U.S., would have died anyway.
However, data from the Mississippi State Department of Health shows only slight increases in heart disease deaths, pneumonia/flu deaths and no change in cancer deaths compared with previous years, meaning COVID-19 caused or accelerated those deaths.
“If we could reset the year, absent COVID-19, these 3,000 deaths would not be here. It’s because COVID is here that people are having more deaths from respiratory failure, from blood clots, from all the different things that COVID-19 pushes to the board,” said Mississippi State Medical Association President Dr. Mark Horne. “You can have heart disease and survive. You can have heart disease and COVID and die. And having one doesn’t mean that you can’t have both.”
Last month, the CDC updated its coronavirus statistics by indicating 6 percent of all COVID-19 deaths were caused solely by COVID-19, with the remaining 94 percent involving people who had more than one illness, or comorbidity.
Misinterpretation of that finding, Dobbs said, spread quickly on social media, with some assuming that if you contract COVID-19 and also have other pre-existing conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, your death will be due to those conditions, not the coronavirus.
The literal interpretation was that only 12,000 people died of COVID-19, not the 200,000-plus COVID-19 deaths recorded around the U.S. thus far.
To Dobbs, it felt like those deaths were discounted and dismissed.
“If we started a new war and 200,000 people died, we would lose our minds. If you’re dead, you’re dead. We have unfortunately, I think, discounted the lives of older folks. It’s almost been portrayed as it’s less important," Dobbs said. "I’m 50, so I’m getting older. Just because I’m 50 doesn’t mean my life doesn’t matter. Just because I have hypertension doesn’t mean my life doesn’t matter because I have a pre-existing condition.”
Nonetheless, dozens of Mississippians have spread rumors without proof that even MSDH was overcounting COVID-19 deaths for some reason.
Most recently, DeSoto County Coroner Josh Pounders said the state’s health department demanded people who died after testing positive for COVID-19 be counted as a COVID-19 death, a claim which has been debunked by health care professionals, the state’s health officer and the official guidelines put in place for coroners like Pounders.
Dobbs has said publicly that the difference in official COVID-19 deaths and the excess deaths mentioned -- hundreds of Mississippians -- shows the state’s health department has actually been undercounting coronavirus deaths, not overcounting, because of its rigorous standards.