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- Texas health officials publish daily coronavirus numbers, including some details about deaths by age, race and gender — but only for cases where the death has been investigated. When Abbott made this statement, the death toll in Texas was 948, but less than half of those deaths had been investigated.
- Of the deaths where age breakdowns are available, roughly 71% are people aged 65 or older. Age information is not available for the deaths still under investigation.
In a press conference on May 5 in which Gov. Greg Abbott updated his reopening plan to add businesses such as hair salons and gyms, he recommended that at-risk populations "remain at home if at all possible" and avoid in-person gatherings, such as a church service, funeral or wedding.
"We strongly encourage at-risk populations to try to watch or participate remotely, remembering this very important point, and that is almost 75 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Texas are a result of people contracting COVID-19 who are age 65 and older," Abbott said.
Texas was among the first states to start reopening businesses and lifting restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, allowing retail stores and restaurants to open May 1 at 25 percent capacity.
Abbott announced the latest set of reopenings Monday, expanding restaurant capacity to 50 percent and granting bars the ability to open at 25 percent capacity within the next couple weeks.
This comes as the state continues to see its number of infections and deaths rise and clusters form mostly in rural parts of the state where meatpacking plants are located. Hospitalizations, however, have decreased since mid-April.
With that in mind, we had to ask: Is Abbott right that almost 75% of coronavirus deaths in Texas are people older than 65?
Looking at the numbers
Abbott’s spokesman John Wittman said Abbott’s claim is based on figures from the Texas Department of Health Services, which publishes daily numbers on the state’s COVID-19 testing and cases.
The data includes a breakdown of coronavirus deaths by age, race and gender, but only for those cases where the deaths have been investigated by the local and regional health departments. As of Wednesday, the majority, or 489, were still under investigation.
"The demographic data on cases and fatalities come from the case investigation forms submitted by local health departments and our regional offices," said DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen.
The purpose of the investigation is to confirm that the person had COVID-19 but also to collect other details about them and the circumstances around their death, Van Deusen said.
Wittman said the data showed that 75% of investigated deaths were people 65 and older when Abbott made this statement.
"It alternates almost daily, but it’s generally around that range," Wittman said.
As of May 6, the day after the press conference, the death toll in Texas was 948. Fewer than half, or 433, had been investigated.
Of those, about 71 percent were Texans 65 and older. It was still about 71 percent, or 345 out of 489 investigated cases, as of Wednesday. The age groups broke down like so:
Ages 10 to 19 years old: 2 deaths, or 0.4%
Ages 20-29: 10 deaths, or 2.04 %
Ages 30-39: 9 deaths, or 1.8%
Ages 40-49: 21 deaths, or 4.29%
Ages 50-59: 54 deaths, or 11.04%
Ages 60-64: 45 deaths, or 9.2%
Ages 65-69: 59 deaths, or 12.06%
Ages 70-74: 45 deaths, or 9.2%
Ages 75-79: 45 deaths, or 9.2%
Ages 80+: 196 deaths, or 40.08%
Across the United States, about 79% of coronavirus deaths have been people 65 years and older, according to the National Center for Health Statistics data submitted between the beginning of February to the beginning of May.
Like Texas’ statistics, the national numbers are also incomplete. The number of deaths represent only those entered between those dates and only include people with confirmed or presumed COVID-19.
"While 80% of deaths are electronically processed and coded by NCHS within minutes, most deaths from COVID-19 must be coded by a person, which takes an average of 7 days," the NCHS states on its website.
The data is also always somewhat behind because of the lag time between when a death occurred and when a death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes. The delay can last anywhere from one week to eight or more.
Abbott said almost "75 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Texas are a result of people contracting COVID-19 who are age 65 and older."
Of confirmed coronavirus deaths, close to 75% were people within the age group Abbott provided, but he failed to include the caveat that this statistic leaves out more than half of the total deaths that have not yet been investigated.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Texas Department of State Health Services, Data Dashboard, accessed May 6
Email interview with Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, May 13, 2020
Phone interview with Van Deusen, May 19, 2020
Phone interview with John Wittman, spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, May 13, 2020
National Center for Health Statistics, Deaths involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), pneumonia, and influenza reported to NCHS by sex and age group, accessed May 13, 2020
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