Many more Americans have died from the Covid-19 pandemic than has been counted and reported, according to a new study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“For every two Americans we know who die from Covid-19, another American dies,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, author of the new research and director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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Woolf’s study looked at mortality statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Census Bureau.
The study found that from March to July, there were 225,530 “excess” deaths – a 20% increase from the average number of deaths expected for those months. (Excessive deaths refers to the number of deaths that are greater than one would expect in a typical period of time.)
Deaths directly linked to Covid-19 account for 67% of those additional deaths, according to the study, leaving the remaining 33% without a clear explanation.
One explanation for the gap may be the underreporting or misreporting of Covid-19-related deaths – in other words, not counting Covid-19-related deaths.
“The second explanation for the gap is that people who did not have Covid-19, but died due to the disruption caused by the pandemic,” Woolf said. “This would include a person who has chest pain, who is afraid to call 911, because they are afraid of contracting the virus and then dies of a heart attack. “
Woolf’s study also took into account the increase in mortality linked to increased drug addiction and decreased access to medical care, especially among those who lost health care coverage during the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
A second study, also published Monday in JAMA, used death rates to compare the U.S. response to the pandemic to that of other high-income countries.
“What we’re showing fairly consistently is that the United States has done worse in terms of deaths compared to all of the other 18 countries,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, author and vice-provost for Global Initiatives and Chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
As of September 19, the study showed that the United States reported an overall Covid-19 death rate of 60.3 per 100,000 people. Canada’s rate was 24.6 per 100,000 population and Australia’s rate was 3.3 deaths per 100,000 population. Overall death rates include deaths from the onset of the pandemic through mid-September.
If the United States had the same death rate as Canada, there would have been 117,000 fewer deaths linked to Covid-19; With Australia’s death rate, the United States would have seen 188,000 fewer deaths, the authors wrote.
“Tens of thousands of Americans have died needlessly,” Emanuel said.
Even hard-hit Italy had a higher overall death rate from Covid-19 than the United States, at 59.1 per 100,000 population.
“It’s not like Italy has a vaccine or anything therapeutic or special compared to the United States,” Emanuel said. “What he had was much better adherence to public health measures,” such as masks, physical distancing and business lockdowns.
Indeed, Italy’s death rate fell to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 after June 7, while the rate in the United States remained at 27.2 per 100,000, according to the study. (The only three countries to report higher overall death rates than the United States were Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom, but their rates fell below 10 per 100,000 after June 7. )
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Woolf predicts that Covid-19-related deaths will continue for years after the spread of the raging infection is brought under control.
“Imagine cancer patients whose chemotherapy has been stopped, or women who postpone their mammograms,” said Woolf. “The consequences of these impacts will be felt in several years. “
“It could be an offshoot of health that lasts a whole generation. “
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