COVID-19 vaccines could one day end the pandemic. But right now, cases – and deaths – continue to rise. The same is true misinformation about the disease.

One comment often seen on social media is the fact that deaths are being related to COVID even when the patient died of another thing. Dr. Sonal Shah, a hospitalist at Southern Illinois Healthcare, says some of that confusion may come from death certificates having two fields.

Part one is the area where doctors enter the cause of death.

“With COVID patients, you will find three different sections on this the beginning. COVID is always indexed by that part one in those three sections, if their death was associated with COVID,” Shah says.

If a patient dies before being admitted, they're still tested in certain situations.

“If they're concerned for if the patient had COVID symptoms, fever, shortness of breath, plus they didn't get tested, they get tested after death,” Shah says.

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On part two death certificate, doctors detail a person's other conditions – even when they were not the direct reason for death, like heart disease or perhaps a lung disease referred to as COPD.

“So like our patients, whenever we ask them to, we have a part two, and we list when they had also high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, COPD, coronary heart, those types of things we list within the part two,” Shah says.

If a patient died of something other than COVID – say, a car accident – then that death would not be counted using the Illinois Department of Public Health's COVID deaths.

If anything, that could lead to an undercounting of COVID deaths, says Josh Miksanek, an emergency room physician with Southern Illinois Healthcare.

He provides the example of an elderly patient hospitalized for COVID, who is discharged to some elderly care and dies of an infection or other illness contracted there. Miksanek says that death would not be counted as COVID-related – even though it could be traced to the original hospitalization.

“Man, it appears as though that started… the volitile manner,” Miksanek says, referring to the initial COVID hospitalization. “And so, you realize, in the usa, we’re not counting COVID deaths that are people who die 30, 60 days from COVID.”

Another bit of misinformation downplays COVID's danger, while comparing it to the flu. Miksanek says people should actually have more confidence in reports of COVID deaths, which are confirmed by testing.

“If you appear at the way flu deaths are determined, we don’t determine flu deaths like we all do COVID deaths,” he explained. “If you want to the CDC website, they do actuarial calculations. They take pneumonia deaths, they take all kinds of respire deaths, they have a number of deaths during flu season, plus they attribute the crooks to influenza.”

Illinois had just over 2,500 deaths within the 2021 flu season, based on CDC data. By Dec. 9, the state has recorded a lot more than 13,000 COVID deaths.

Miksanek says while both COVID and flu tend to be dangerous for older patients, COVID deaths include younger people as well.

He's in his late 30s, and he recalls a conversation with an elderly woman who had been being admitted to the hospital for that flu. She asked why he wasn't wearing a mask.

“Oh, I’m exposed to flu every single day, I’m not worried about influenza,” he says. “You know, I’m young, statistically, I’m not going to die from the flu. Also it doesn’t scare me at all.

“But COVID does scare me. Because even being relatively young and healthy, there are definitely many people in their 30s that will get very sick. It’s not like everyone is going to get sick, it’s just… it’s way too hard to really predict who’s getting sick.”

Shah and Miksanek can't address just of misinformation about COVID. But you will find places to get the facts online, such as the CDC and World Health Organization, or major health groups such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.