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Data shows deaths from COVID-19 have spiked to their highest numbers in a year due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Unvaccinated Americans and people over age 75 have been particularly hit hard by the variant, according to the Post.
The Washington Post graphic is not in conflict with the headline.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 has proved to be less severe than previous strains of the virus, but deaths in the U.S. have remained high due to its higher transmissibility, health experts have said.
A recent article in the Washington Post noted the high death toll in recent months and noted that omicron had been particularly harder on the elderly and unvaccinated Americans.
A social media post used the headline from that story alongside an image of a graphic embedded in the story to misleadingly suggest the Post article was misinforming readers.
"Here is an article caption by the Washington Post," the Feb. 8 Facebook post read. "Look at the second image for a statistical reference. That was provided within this article. You tell us if this headline is misleading or misinformation."
The post 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.)
That’s because the headline is right — and the graphic is right. And they are not contradictory, as the Facebook post suggests.
"Deaths highest in a year as omicron hits unvaccinated, elderly" reads the headline in one image. Next to it, a screengrab shows a graphic from that story illustrating deaths by age groups since the start of the pandemic.
It’s not clear if the author of the post takes issue with the death totals rising or the fact that the headline mentions the toll on the unvaccinated. But the claim is incorrect on either count.
If you navigate to the original Post story, which is not linked in the Facebook post, you will find the first paragraph reads: "Though considered milder than other coronavirus variants, omicron has infected so many people that it has driven the number of daily deaths beyond where it was last spring, before vaccines were widely available, according to Washington Post data."
Indeed, the Post’s data tracker, which is linked to in the story and draws from Johns Hopkins University figures, shows that COVID-19 deaths for all ages are higher than at any time since the previous spring, including during the delta surge in September. The CDC’s numbers, which are based on deaths reported by states and territories, differ slightly from the Post’s, but show a similar trend.
The story goes on to say that, according to health officials, omicron has been especially deadly for Americans over age 75, the unvaccinated and medically vulnerable people, citing doctors and health officials
The graphic shows the percentage of total deaths by age group over time since April 2020 through January 2022, based on CDC data. It reveals that people over age 75 made up about half of the COVID-19 deaths in January.
The Post article cites doctors and public health officials when discussing deaths among unvaccinated Americans during the recent omicron surge, which began shortly after Thanksgiving. The City of Chicago, for example, "reported an age-adjusted death rate peaking at 14 per 100,000 for the unvaccinated around Jan. 22 compared to about 1 per 100,000 for the boosted," the Post article said.
The most recent CDC data on deaths by vaccination status from Sept. 19 through Dec. 4, 2021, shows unvaccinated Americans dying at a rate of 9.74 per 100,000 cases, compared with 0.10 per 100,000 for fully vaccinated people.
A Facebook post accused the Washington Post of misleading readers with a headline showing that the omicron variant of COVID-19 has pushed deaths in the U.S. to their highest numbers in a year and that the elderly and unvaccinated have been hit hardest.
It juxtaposed the headline with a graphic from the article that showed the percentage of deaths by age group, indicating that the omicron variant has hit people over 75 particularly hard in recent months.
Data from Johns Hopkins University — which the Post used — as well as CDC totals show that deaths had risen recently to their highest numbers since last spring. While data on deaths by vaccination status aren’t yet available after Dec. 4, the Post spoke with doctors and public health officials who noted a higher death rate among unvaccinated Americans.
The Post’s article was neither misleading or misinformation, but this Facebook post was.
We rate this claim False.
Facebook post, Feb. 8, 2022
The Washington Post, "Covid deaths highest in a year as omicron targets the unvaccinated and elderly," Feb. 8, 2022
The Wall Street Journal, "Omicron Deaths in U.S. Exceed Delta’s Peak as Covid-19 Optimism Rises in Europe," Jan. 26, 2022
The New York Times, "U.S. Covid Death Toll Surpasses 900,000 as Omicron’s Spread Slows," Feb. 4, 2022
CDC, "COVID-19 Weekly Cases and Deaths per 100,000 Population by Age, Race/Ethnicity, and Sex," Feb. 7-Feb. 12, 2022
U.S. News & World Report, "WHO: Don’t Dismiss Omicron as Mild, Spread is Faster Than Any Other Variant," Dec. 14, 2021
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