ELECTION 2020

Fact Checker: Miller-Meeks links excess deaths to hospital shutdowns

Mariannette Miller-Meeks answers a question during an Oct. 8 debate with Rita Hart moderated by The Gazette's James Q. L
Mariannette Miller-Meeks answers a question during an Oct. 8 debate with Rita Hart moderated by The Gazette’s James Q. Lynch and KCRG-TV9’s Chris Earl in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District has a close race between Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart, who faced each other in an Oct. 8 debate hosted by KCRG-TV9 and The Gazette.

In this check, we’ll hit on two debate claims from Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist and state senator.

Analysis

Claim 1: “The CDC has already said over 98,000 people had non-COVID related deaths because of hospitals that were closed down for non-essential services,” Miller-Meeks said as an example of a side effect of shutdowns in the early months of the pandemic.

Graded a B

It seems like it would be easy enough to check her statement. After all, she said she got the information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the Miller-Meeks campaign did not respond to the Fact Checker’s request for its sourcing, so we had to guess what research she was referencing.

A CDC report posted Tuesday said an estimated 299,028 excess deaths (above the expected baseline) occurred from late January through Oct. 3 in the United States.

About 198,000, or two-thirds, were attributed to COVID-19, the CDC said. This leaves about 100,000 excess deaths during that seven-month period that weren’t believed to be because of COVID-19.

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The report said “results inform efforts to prevent mortality directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as efforts to minimize disruptions to health care.”

Because of shortages of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, many U.S. governors, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, suspended non-essential medical services, elective surgeries and nonemergency dental procedures. Iowa’s declaration was March 27 to April 27.

Looking at excess deaths during that narrower window, a July report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 87,000 excess deaths nationwide from March 1 to April 25, with 45 percent of those, or more than 30,000, not attributed to COVID-19.

It’s possible some of these excess deaths were due to shutdowns of non-emergency procedures, as Miller-Meeks said, but it’s also possible there were other reasons — like people deciding not to seek care because they feared contracting the disease. But emergency rooms didn’t close.

Grade: Miller-Meeks said more than 98,000 Americans died “because hospitals were closed down for non-essential services,” but the reasons for these excess deaths haven’t been confirmed by the research by the CDC or other organizations.

The number she cited is through early October, while medical services shutdowns were shorter. We give her a C.

Claim 2: “Forty percent of our (Iowa’s) energy resources are from renewables.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in May that Iowa gets 42 percent of its net electric generation from wind. Another 2 percent comes from biomass, solar and hydroelectric power.

Grade: A

Conclusion

Averaging Miller-Meeks’s C and A, she gets a B overall.

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Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.