New York Times falsely reports percentage of COVID-19 deaths

The New York Times falsely reported that about three out of every 100 people diagnosed with COVID-19 die, a falsehood the outlet later acknowledged.

In a Dec. 14 story claiming COVID-19 can spread from dead people, reporter Apoorva Mandavilli wrote that “up to 70 percent of those infected with Ebola die, compared with about 3 percent of those diagnosed with Covid-19.”

There are two measures of fatalities from a disease: infection fatality ratio (IFR) and case fatality ratio (CFR).

The first takes all infections and adds estimated ones drawn from serological testing and modelling. The second is drawn from only confirmed cases, so is always higher, due to how many COVID-19 cases are undiagnosed.

According to one recent estimate, the IFR ranges from 0.49 percent to 2.5 percent—but is much lower for those who aren’t elderly.

According to one set of estimates, the CFR for COVID-19 ranged from 0.1 percent to 1.9 percent in mid-December, depending on the country. In the United States, it was down to 0.1 percent in September, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, who was quoted in the piece, said that she did not recall providing the 3 percent figure. “COVID IFR varies by population and by age. Pre-vaccine, some populations had IFRs in excess of 3%, although again, it is highly variable,” she wrote on Twitter, linking to an estimate published in The Lancet.

After The Epoch Times asked the New York Times for data to support Mandavilli’s claim, the paper updated the article.

“Up to 70 percent of those infected with Ebola die. The figure for Covid is nowhere near as high—greater than 3 percent in the early days of the pandemic, and something closer to 1 percent or even less now,” the piece now states.

As evidence, the paper linked to a transcript of a speech given on March 3, 2020, by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the set of CFR estimates.

In its correction notice, the New York Times said: “An earlier version of this article misstated the death rate for Covid patients. It is now 1 percent or less, not about 3 percent.”

Still Wrong

The updated claim is still wrong, experts noted.

The language shows the paper is referring IFR, but its sources discuss the CFR.

Ghebreyesus, for instance, said that “Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died.” And the second link goes to an Our World in Data page that clearly states it provides the CFR, not the IFR.

“This ‘correction’ is still wrong. It is conflating IFR with CFR,” David Zweig, a science writer, wrote on Twitter.

“The correction is actually even more incorrect than the original claim,” professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute, added.

Other articles about COVID-19 written by Mandavilli have also been corrected.

One article infamously claimed that nearly 4,000 children aged 5 and 11 died of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition linked to COVID-19, during the pandemic. The actual number among all children was just 68, according to the CDC.

The story was later updated to say that nearly 4,000 children between the ages of 5 to 11 “have been diagnosed with” MIS-C, with no mention of the number of deaths.



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