Whether or not the final tallies of how deadly the 2019 novel coronavirus is will be higher, lower, or the same as the seasonal flu is something we will not know for a long time. We do know that there are well over 10 million confirmed cases around the world (more than a quarter of those cases in the United States) and over 500,000 deaths attributed worldwide to COVID-19. The United States has around 130,000 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, but researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Yale University have found that this number may be woefully undercounting the true number of deaths due either directly or indirectly to the virus.
The teams published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday. In the study, they found: “Between March 1, 2020, and April 25, 2020, a total of 505 059 deaths were reported in the US; 87 001 (95% CI, 86 578-87 423) were excess deaths, of which 56 246 (65%) were attributed to COVID-19.” And while that number illustrates about one-third of “excess deaths” that are not being reported as coronavirus-related, the distribution across the country of these distinctions are not equal. “In 14 states, more than 50% of excess deaths were attributed to underlying causes other than COVID-19.”
The study found that places like California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut had considerably higher numbers of excess deaths not attributed to COVID-19. Lead author Steven Woolf, M.D., director emeritus of VCU's Center on Society and Health, told Science Daily: “There are several potential reasons for this under-count. Some of it may reflect under-reporting; it takes awhile for some of these data to come in. Some cases might involve patients with COVID-19 who died from related complications, such as heart disease, and those complications may have been listed as the cause of death rather than COVID-19.
"But a third possibility, the one we're quite concerned about, is indirect mortality — deaths caused by the response to the pandemic. People who never had the virus may have died from other causes because of the spillover effects of the pandemic, such as delayed medical care, economic hardship or emotional distress."
Taking this study in tandem with another study coming out of Yale University that Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner covered on Wednesday paints a picture familiar to many of us who are actually paying attention to this public health crisis: An untold number of people are dying and will continue to die because of our terribly inadequate response to this crisis and our greed-based healthcare infrastructure.