During the COVID-19 pandemic, have there been more deaths of any cause than would have been expected based on the death rate in previous years?

Emergency Room, Hospital, Ambulance, Rescue, Houston

Bottom Line:

From March 1 through to May 30, 2020 there were 120,000 more deaths than would have been expected based on previous years, with roughly 80% of these extra deaths being due to COVID-19 and 20% being due to causes other than COVID-19.

Reference:

Weinberger, D.M. et al. Estimation of excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, march to May 2020. JAMA Internal Medicine (2020). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.3391

Date Published:

1 July 2020

Synopsis:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had such a profound and tragic effect on the international community that it is difficult to fully recognize the magnitude of the pandemic’s impact. Beyond affecting people’s health directly (via COVID-19 disease), the pandemic indirectly affects health in a myriad of ways. For instance, the pandemic may indirectly cause harm by discouraging people with non-COVID-19 health issues from seeking care; at the same time, it may indirectly decrease other sources of harm, such as decreasing deaths due to traffic accidents or workplace safety incidents. In this study, researchers measured the overall effect of COVID-19 on the United States’ death rate by comparing the actual number of deaths from March 1, 2020 – May 30, 2020 to the number of deaths that would have been expected during this time period based on the death rate in previous years. Between March 1, 2020 – May 30, 2020, there were a total of roughly 780,000 deaths in the United States, which is 120,000 deaths more than expected based on prior years. Of these 120,000 excess deaths, roughly 80% were due to COVID-19 and 20% were due to non-COVID-19 causes. The excess deaths that were not due to COVID-19 may be due to the pandemic discouraging people from seeking medical care for non-COVID-19 conditions; alternatively, they could reflect inadequate testing for COVID-19, as this would result in failing to detect some COVID-19 deaths and therefore cause undercounting of COVID-19 mortality. These results highlight the extent of impact that COVID-19 has had on people’s health – both directly and indirectly – and underscores the importance of continuing to combat this pandemic.

Summary by: Jacob Ferguson