KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) - Local health officials are stressing now is a time for all to be more careful about social distancing and wearing masks, not less. They also stress it’s also important to know context is everything when looking at data.

The Centers for Disease Control most recent update states, “for 6% of deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.” Meaning 94% of patients had an additional factor listed as a cause of death.

“People were interpreting this to mean that only 6% of people who have died of COVID-19, actually died of COVID-19, but I think most of these people with COVID-19 as listed as a cause of death, it directly contributed to their death,” palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Dr. Christi Bartlett said.

Dr. Bartlett fills out death certificates often. She explained that it’s rare for any certificate to only have one cause of death. For example, the immediate cause of death for a COVID-19 patient would likely, “respiratory failure.” Caused by “respiratory distress syndrome.” Caused by “COVID-19.”

If there were other factors like cancer, obesity or high-blood pressure, that could have contributed, there’s a box for those to be listed too.

“Someone doesn’t just go from being perfectly healthy to dead with COVID-19. There was something that happened in the interim and so a lot of times that can be pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome which then leads to respiratory failure and subsequently their death,” Dr. Bartlett said.

Kansas City’s health director says in the past five years of data, the city hasn’t had a single death certificate with only one contributing factor as a cause of death. So he says this CDC report should not cause people to lower their guard.

“If we have a huge spike with COVID-19, at the same time we also have a spike with influenza, then yes we could very easily have to ration hospital beds until certain people. We are certainly at a very high-risk situation. That if people do not continue to comply with wearing a mask,” Kansas City Health Director Dr. Rex Archer said. 

Dr. Bartlett says those 6% of death certificates that only list COVID-19 may be due to time constraints or laziness on the part of doctors filling them out, or even just doctors not aware of how to correctly fill one out.

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