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Despite a dip in death rates, which are expected to rise again, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers COVID-19 an epidemic.
Death rates alone don’t determine whether an outbreak is an epidemic.
Referring to the lead federal agency fighting COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the article’s headline said:
"The CDC may have to stop calling COVID-19 an ‘epidemic’ due to a remarkably low death rate."
The July 9 article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The claim is flawed in a number of ways.
The article appears on the website of Collective Evolution, which describes itself as a "conscious media company focused on personal transformation."
The article claims the CDC might have to stop calling COVID-19 an epidemic because the death rate is becoming so low that it wouldn’t meet the CDC’s definition of epidemic. It does not cite any death rate figures.
The article cites a CDC webpage, but that page does not refer to death rates in describing what an epidemic is.
The CDC page says: "Epidemic refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area."
Health officials and leaders have made several official declarations about the novel coronavirus. But the major ones weren’t about declaring an epidemic, and none were made by the CDC:
Jan. 30: The World Health Organization declares a global health emergency.
Jan. 31: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declares a public health emergency.
March 11: The WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic.
March 13: President Donald Trump declares a national emergency.
In its weekly summary of COVID-19 activity, the CDC gave no indication that a drop in deaths signaled a turning point. The latest report available when the Facebook post was made was for the week ended June 27.
It said about death rates:
"Mortality attributed to COVID-19 decreased compared to last week and is currently at the epidemic threshold, but will likely increase as additional death certificates are processed."
The same statement was made in the latest report, for the week ended July 4.
Here’s what that means, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told PolitiFact:
The epidemic threshold "refers to the point at which the observed proportion of deaths is significantly higher than would be expected at that time of the year in the absence of substantial influenza, and now COVID-related mortality." Deaths are a lagging indicator of COVID-19, partly because of a delay in the processing of death certificates. Death rates alone don’t "have bearing on whether COVID-19 is still an epidemic," given that the extent of the outbreak is the primary factor.
An article widely shared on Facebook claimed: "The CDC may have to stop calling COVID-19 an ‘epidemic’ due to a remarkably low death rate."
The latest CDC statement made public when the Facebook post was made said deaths attributed to COVID-19 decreased from the previous week, but remained at the epidemic threshold, and were likely to increase. Moreover, death rates alone do not define an epidemic.
We rate the statement False.
Collective-evolution.com, "The CDC may have to stop calling COVID-19 an ‘epidemic’ due to a remarkably low death rate," (archived here), July 9, 2020
PolitiFact, "Timeline: How Donald Trump responded to the coronavirus pandemic," March 20, 2020
Email, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund, July 11, 2020
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Principles of Epidemiology in Public Health Practice, Third Edition, An Introduction to Applied Epidemiology and Biostatistics," May 18, 2012
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVIDView" for the week ending July 4, 2020, July 10, 2020
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVIDView" for the week ending June 27, 2020, July 3, 2020
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