REPORT: How researchers calculated death rate in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria
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President Trump took heat on Thursday for questioning a report that said 2,975 people died as the result of a hurricane that hit Puerto Rico in 2017, but the truth is, no one really knows.
Puerto Rico started counting in the first few days after Hurricane Maria hit, but stopped at 64. It then commissioned a study by George Washington University, which this summer put forward an estimate that 2,975 people died as a result of the storm.
The article goes on to state the following:
That 2,975 number is an estimate that Puerto Rico has accepted, in large part because the island commonwealth has no better number to offer.
To get the number, researchers looked at how many people died in previous years, and compared that rate to the rate seen in the months after the hurricanes. It then made an estimate of how many people fled the island — the more people it assumed had left, the higher the mortality rate would be.
“Comparing these projections to observed mortality in the vital registration data, we arrived at our estimates of excess all-cause mortality attributable to the storm,” the study said.
It estimated 2,098 “excess deaths” from September to December, and 2,975 “excess deaths” in the total six month period, from September to February.
The study also found:
- “[N]either the Department of Public Safety (DPS) nor the Central Communications Office in the Governor’s Office had written crisis and emergency risk communications plans in place.”
- “Key leader interview respondents perceived the death count to be much higher, and held viewpoints that government leadership was disconnected from the realities of Puerto Rican communities, that there was not transparency in reporting, that information was intentionally withheld to evade blame and that adequate systems were not in place to track the death count.”
- “There was limited community and stakeholder engagement in disaster communication planning, and ineffective communication contingency plans in place, resulting in limited public health and safety information reaching local communities posthurricane and alternative communication channels that were not systematically utilized for disease surveillance and information dissemination.”
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Puerto Rico’s government—led by a governor with the island’s pro-statehood party who is also a Democrat—faced criticism for nearly a year after the hurricane that it drastically undercounted the number of fatalities caused by Maria. Last month, it acknowledged in a document filed to Congress that the death toll from Maria was much higher than the official total.
In analyzing Puerto Rico’s death-certification process, the study found that listed causes of death included cardiac arrest, respiratory failure and septicemia. But researchers concluded that such causes were sometimes misassigned, with physicians failing to link the deaths to the hurricane.
The Milken Institute School of Public Health, which conducted the study, on Thursday issued a statement saying it stood by the science of its report, which it said was “carried out with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference.”
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