• Should coronavirus fatalities be included in the official tally of coronavirus deaths if the victim only died “with” the virus, as opposed to “because of” it?
  • That’s the question people are asking, in light of a newly revealed episode in Florida (which is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US).
  • A young person who died in a motorcycle crash but who was found to have coronavirus was included in the coronavirus total.

Anybody who watched HBO’s landmark series The Wire will remember the storyline involving Baltimore city cops and the pressure they faced from the top brass to show progress in the fight against crime — which led, inevitably, to cops “juking the stats.” You could do things like under-report crimes or arrest more people for small crimes, and it makes it look like the cops are winning. Later, Detective Pryzbylewski becomes a teacher in the Baltimore city schools and realizes it’s the same story there. Only, “juking the stats” in that case meant “teaching for the test” so the school can improve students’ standardized test scores — never mind whether kids are actually, genuinely, you know … learning.

Meanwhile, is a bit of the same thing happening right now, during the coronavirus pandemic, when it comes to the official death tallies? Maybe, especially when you consider revelations like this one from a local TV news station in Orlando which found that a man was included in the local coronavirus death numbers … even though he’d died in a motorcycle crash.

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino was asked by Fox 35 News whether two recent coronavirus victims in their 20s had any underlying conditions. The station got a surprising reply: “The first one didn’t have any. He died in a motorcycle accident.”

Fox 35 News then asked the doctor the obvious follow-up question. Okay, if he died in a motorcycle crash, then was his data removed from the coronavirus death total?

“I don’t think so. I have to double-check,” Pino told the station. “We were arguing, discussing, or trying to argue with the state. Not because of the numbers. It’s 100 … it doesn’t make any difference if it’s 99. But the fact that the individual didn’t die from COVID-19 … died in the crash. But you could actually argue that it could have been the COVID-19 that caused him to crash. I don’t know the conclusion of that one.”

This is the kind of thing that’s fueling coronavirus truthers and all kinds of conspiracy theorists, who use a situation like this to undercut official pronouncements about the extent of the virus. See, the argument goes — they’re juking the stats, adding people to the death count to make the coronavirus seem worse than it is.

Be wary about using instances like these (and you can easily find more) to jump to the conclusion that the coronavirus pandemic is being thus blown out of proportion. In actual fact, the official numbers may just as easily be undercounting the total number of coronavirus deaths.

Live Science recently addressed this issue, via an explanation that also puts the motorcycle death above into context: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for how to attribute a death to COVID-19. The guidelines urge using information from COVID-19 testing, where possible, but also allow for deaths to be listed as ‘presumed’ or ‘probable’ COVID-19 based on symptoms and the best clinical judgment of the person filling out the death certificate.”

Dr. Sally Aiken, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, told the outlet that the idea these numbers are being skewed on purpose is laughable. Medical examiners, she said, are independent entities and have beliefs that run the political gamut.

“It always cracks me up,” she said. “Medical examiners and coroners aren’t organized enough to have a conspiracy.”

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.