The Potluck

Scott Jensen: COVID death data ‘skewed’ by people who would have died soon anyway

By: - April 14, 2022 2:10 pm

Republican nominee for governor Scott Jensen. Via YouTube.

Dr. Scott Jensen’s latest piece of evidence for his erroneous claims that COVID-19 death counts have been inflated: Many people who died of COVID-19 would have died in two or three years anyway.

Jensen — a practicing family physician, former state senator from Chaska and GOP gubernatorial frontrunner — argued during a Facebook livestream Monday that Minnesota’s COVID-19 death data is “skewed,” supporting his view that stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic were unnecessary. One reason the statistics are slanted, Jensen said, is that they include people who had severe health conditions in addition to COVID-19, like heart disease or high blood pressure.

“If you take John Doe, and he’s 75 years old, and he has fragile diabetes and emphysema — if he gets COVID-19, yes, COVID-19 could take his life. But based on actuarial studies, his lifespan might only have been two or three more years,” Jensen says. “That’s one way things were skewed.”

Early in the pandemic, Jensen called COVID-19 a “mild four-day respiratory illness which poses little risk to more than 95% of people.” He accused health care providers of inflating their COVID numbers to get more money from the government. Once vaccination began, he questioned their safety, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

Jensen opened the Monday video by explaining that the Christian Holy Week leading up to Easter prompted him to reflect, especially on government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.

He goes on to criticize Gov. Tim Walz’s business restrictions in 2020 — especially allowing liquor stores and the south-metro candy store The Big Yellow Barn to open, which Jensen says showed that “evidently (Walz) wanted your diet to move towards alcohol and candy, not spiritual wholesomeness.”

More than 97% of Minnesotans who died of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 had another health condition as well, Jensen says, referencing an analysis by a retired lawyer published in conservative news site AlphaNews

“A comorbidity — or an associated illness — is not a hangnail,” Jensen says. “It’s big-time stuff. It’s obesity to an alarming degree. It’s hypertension. It’s coronary artery disease. It’s diabetes. It’s fragile pulmonary disease. It’s stuff that would curtail your lifespan.”

Claims of inflated COVID-19 mortality counts have been a common — and baseless — talking point among right-wing pundits and COVID-19 skeptics since at least August 2020, according to the nonprofit media institute Poynter.

People making the argument often allege that deaths are overcounted by including people who died “with,” not “from” COVID-19, which has been debunked. In reality, COVID-19 deaths were likely undercounted, studies show.

Quinn Nystrom, an author and diabetes advocate who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2020, said Jensen’s statements were “appalling” and contribute to the stigma around diabetes, which many people erroneously believe is a direct result of weight, diet or exercise habits.

“The whole undercurrent is that people with diabetes, it’s their fault, and that we shouldn’t be counted (in COVID-19 numbers),” Nystrom said. “To me, the irony that you have a candidate who, on his main platform is pro-life — it doesn’t feel like certain lives matter.”

People with diabetes tend to be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and other illnesses, but they’re less likely to become seriously ill if their diabetes is well-managed — which is often an issue of health care access and ability to pay for treatment, Nystrom said. It’s especially troubling to hear this rhetoric from a doctor, she said.

“Shame on Jensen,” Nystrom said. “It’s baffling to me.”

Jensen’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.