A response to a Facebook comment: debunking a false claim from a Sarah Huckabee-Sanders parody account about fewer deaths in 2020 than in 2018 or 2019 (corrected)

The disinformation tweet being debunked
The following is a response to a Facebook commenter on Colorado Governor Polis’ Facebook page who shared disinformation originally written by a Sarah Huckabee-Sanders parody account on Twitter back in September. I’ve edited it to convert typed links to hyperlinks, embedded an image, and clarified the language just a bit.

Correction: The tweet pictured is not from Sarah Huckabee-Sanders herself, but rather a parody account. However, the claims in the tweet are what the following argument debunks, so I’ve left the post in place.

There are a number of problems with Huckabee-Sanders’ tweet that make it misinformation at best, disinformation at worst.

First, if you review the data source, you’ll see that the data starts the week ending February 1, 2020. That means this is not a complete accounting of all deaths in 2020 to date, but rather an accounting that excludes the first four weeks of the year. That is a significant error.

Second, the number ignores the fact that this total number of deaths was 111% of the expected number of deaths over the same period as compared to previous years. So the total number of deaths was 11% high at that point, not tracking below like Huckabee-Sanders claimed.

Third, the exact same footnote associated with the excess deaths percentage also points out that

“Previous analyses of 2015–2016 provisional data completeness have found that completeness is lower in the first few weeks following the date of death (<25%), and then increases over time such that data are generally at least 75% complete within 8 weeks of when the death occurred.

This means that the total number of deaths is only 75% accurate even 8 weeks after death due to reporting delays and other issues. And we can see this in the comparison of the data as of September 24 to the latest data as of October 16. If you add up all the weekly deaths from 2/1 through 9/19, there are 72,716 deaths that have been added in the last month.

Fourth, even if total deaths were down, Huckabee-Sanders offers no investigation of why that might be the case. For example, vehicle deaths might be lower since total vehicle miles traveled have dropped as a result of COVID restrictions.

Finally, the totals today are much higher than they were on September 24. We’re at 2,226,473 total deaths, which is 112% of the expected number of deaths.

COVID is a threat, and given Colorado’s total cases have exploded, our positivity percentage is back up over 5% again, and new hospitalizations are climbing – again, it’s clear that we need to take the pandemic more seriously, not less.

Please stop sharing misinformation like this. You’re putting people’s lives at risk in doing so.

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