This article has been corrected to clarify that while the CDC announced that the death rate is “currently at the epidemic threshold,” the agency uses more than just the death rate to designate disease outbreaks as epidemics.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the percentage of deaths in the United States has dipped low enough that it is “currently at the epidemic threshold.” The agency also noted, however, that it expects the status will “likely change” as more death certificates are processed for recent weeks and has clarified that its epidemic designation is determined by more than solely a disease’s death rate.
The CDC announced Friday that the percentage of deaths had declined for 10 weeks in a row, noting: “Based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19 (PIC) decreased from 9.0% during week 25 to 5.9% during week 26, representing the tenth week of a declining percentage of deaths due to PIC. The percentage is currently at the epidemic threshold but will likely change as more death certificates are processed, particularly for recent weeks.”
The CDC is still unsure whether the 10-week declining percentage of deaths will see a reverse, adding: “Nationally, levels of influenza-like illness (ILI) and COVID-19-like illness (CLI) activity remain lower than peaks seen in March and April but are increasing in most regions. The percentage of specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, also increased from last week. 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.”
In response to interpretations of the CDC’s “epidemic threshold” statement as meaning that the agency could be on the verge of lifting the epidemic label from COVID-19, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund refuted the claim, telling 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.
Near the end of June, CDC Director Robert Redfield posited that the number of people in the United States who had been infected was likely 10 times higher than the 2.4 million confirmed cases, meaning at least 24 million people had been infected. Redfield surmised that between 5 to 8 percent of Americans had been infected, adding, “Young people, many newly mobile after months of lockdowns, have been getting tested more often in recent weeks and driving the surge in cases in the South and West … in the past, I just don’t think we diagnosed these infections.”
On Friday, the CDC delineated the differences in number of positive tests for the coronavirus around the nation:
Nationally, using combined data from the three laboratory types, the percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 with a molecular assay increased from week 25 (8.1%) to week 26 (8.7%).
Increases were reported in seven of ten HHS surveillance regions. Four regions reported between 4% and 6% of specimens positive for SARS-CoV-2: Regions 2 [NY/NJ/Puerto Rico], 5 [Midwest], 7 [Central] and 10 [Pacific Northwest].
Two regions reported between 10% and 15% of specimens positive for SARS-CoV-2: Regions 4 [South East] and 9 [South West/Coast]. Region 6 [South Central] reported >15% of specimens positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Three regions (Regions 1 [New England], 3 [Mid-Atlantic] and 8 [Mountain]) reported a stable or decreasing percentage of specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
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