During a virtual town hall on Thursday, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) responded to questions in a way that aligned with false QAnon conspiracy theories regarding the count of coronavirus deaths in the U.S.
Tillis was asked by a participant in the town hall about the accuracy of COVID death counts in the country. The individual had suggested that the count being offered at present, which states that more than 200,000 Americans have died from the disease, is an overestimate, due to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that showed just 6 percent of individuals who have died did not have underlying health conditions.
“I just wanted to point out the CDC has made clear that the deaths, that 200,000-death mark, has been not only from COVID-related deaths directly, but also from things like heart attacks and slip-and-falls, and things like that, where people die but they have COVID in their system and they have marked it as a COVID death,” the participant said in her comments.
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The insinuation of her question matches a false conspiracy theory promulgated by followers of the broader set of QAnon conspiracies. While the CDC report does note that the vast majority of those who have died so far have had comorbidities listed on their death certificates, the same report also cites coronavirus as being the main cause of death in 95 percent of all instances.
Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force and the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified this summer about the errant insinuations being made within the report, saying definitively that the figures being cited by QAnon followers “does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19 — they did.”
Nevertheless, during the town hall where the question was asked of him, Tillis implied that he agreed with the debunked conspiracy theory, telling the woman who brought it up that she was, in his mind, “absolutely right.”
“I think when the final counting is done, you are going to see, sadly, that the number of people who died from this may have died from an underlying health condition at the same time that they had COVID,” Tillis said.
In truth, studies have demonstrated that the number of those who have died in the U.S. because of coronavirus is actually probably much higher than what we presently believe it is. “Excess” deaths over the past several months — compared to death numbers from years in the past — are substantially higher, even when you subtract the total that are counted as having died from COVID-19.
While discussing the matter more, Tillis also suggested he was a proponent of the idea of “herd immunity” as a means to combat coronavirus — another questionable belief that purports that, as more people get sick with the disease, it will become less of a concern due to the general population having developed immunities to it.
Without evidence backing his claim, the senator said during the town hall that once 60 percent of the country contracts coronavirus, “this will be a manageable illness in the United States.”
Herd immunity is largely viewed as an unsafe way to go about dealing with any disease, as it will likely lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths before a given community is “immune” to it in a general sense. Many have likened the idea to the practice of eugenics, as those whose immune systems are less resistant to an illness become more likely to die from it, as the rest of the community attempts to reach a threshold proportion of immunity in a given population.
As of this week, CDC Director Robert Redfield said he believes only about 10 percent of Americans have contracted COVID-19, leaving around 90 percent “susceptible” to the disease. With that in mind, considering how many have already died from the disease already, reaching the 60 percent figure that Tillis suggested would result in a catastrophically high number of additional casualties.
Besides being cruel to a number of at-risk individuals, herd immunity might also not work as Tillis describes it. For a number of diseases, the threshold proportion needed to reach herd immunity (usually achieved through vaccinations and not the way the senator and others are proposing) is a much higher rate than 60 percent. When it comes to measles, for example, the threshold proportion is 94 percent.
Tillis’s errant and misplaced comments, based on widely discredited conspiracy theories emanating from followers of QAnon, come as he’s in a political battle to retain his seat in the Senate. Presently, Tillis is trailing his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham by a five-point margin, according to a recent Change Research poll.
As of Friday, more than 7.1 million Americans have contracted coronavirus, and nearly 208,000 have died from the disease so far.