The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Tuesday that hundreds of thousands more Americans died this year than in previous years, likely owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The report compared typical yearly death counts to the death count for 2020 between February 1 and September 16. During that eight-month period, the U.S. saw around 285,000 more deaths than might have been expected given past trends.
Given that the report is based on numbers from several weeks ago, there’s a high likelihood that excess deaths have already surpassed 300,000 as of today’s date, October 20, compared to previous years.
Even after accounting for deaths directly attributed to COVID-19, there remain tens of thousands of excess deaths recorded this year. While the official count for the total number of Americans who have died of the coronavirus as of September 16 was around 201,363, there still remain over 83,000 deaths that are in excess of a typical year.
While some of those excess deaths may be due to other causes, such as individuals being reluctant to seek medical help — out of fear of being exposed to COVID-19 at medical facilities — for illnesses that can be life-threatening if left untreated, most experts, citing scientific research on the subject, believe that many of the tens of thousands of extra deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to coronavirus.
“The number of people dying from this pandemic is higher than we think. This study shows it. Others have as well,” Steven Woolf, the director emeritus at the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, said to The Washington Post.
Indeed, at the beginning of 2020, the U.S. was actually seeing fewer deaths than were typically recorded in the past. Death rates were at -1 percent compared to prior years in the weeks of January 12 and January 19. The rate went back to being comparable to previous years (0 percent) the following week, and then began to climb steadily in the weeks following, as the pandemic hit the U.S.
While most health experts would agree that the true toll of coronavirus deaths is probably higher than what’s being reported, a number of supporters of President Donald Trump, in trying to put a positive spin on Trump’s serious mishandling of the public health crisis, have tried to suggest otherwise. The president himself has sent retweets through his Twitter account wrongly making similar claims, including sharing a tweet in August from a QAnon user errantly claiming that only 6 percent of deaths from the official figures were valid.
That figure came from a separate CDC study that noted 94 percent of COVID-19 deaths listed a comorbidity on the death certificates. From that, it was wrongly extrapolated by those backing Trump, including a significant number of QAnon followers, that only 6 percent of deaths being reported were legitimately caused by the coronavirus.
In fact, that reasoning is seriously flawed and highly misleading because regardless of whether comorbidities were a factor, the underlying cause of those patients’ deaths was COVID-19, as that very same CDC report being cited had noted.
“When we ask if COVID killed somebody, it means ‘Did they die sooner than they would have if they didn’t have the virus?'” Justin Lessler, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said to Scientific American earlier this year.
In truth, unless indicated otherwise, while those comorbidities may have been serious, it was the coronavirus that led to the death of those individuals.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 225,698 Americans have died from coronavirus. According to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, more than 314,000 Americans are predicted to perish due to the virus by December 31.