Covid-19: The 3rd Leading Cause of Death and Other Hard Data

A sober look at the numbers

Robert Roy Britt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
4 min readNov 1, 2020

Amid rapidly worsening Covid-19 outbreaks across America and a pandemic of politicization, polarization, and fatigue, I’m taking a brief time-out on analysis and expert scientific commentary to just look at some hard data.

Covid-19 is the number three cause of death in the United States this year, based on the numbers already logged. Barring any upside surprise, it will likely end up in that third slot, behind heart disease and cancer, whose numbers don’t change much from year to year. Already the coronavirus pandemic has killed twice as many Americans as the 1957–58 flu pandemic, whose death toll of 116,000 was the worst since 1918.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in the United States is now at a record level, averaging more than 80,000 per day and accelerating upward. Hospitalizations are surging across the country, and deaths are ticking back up. Based on the latest seven-day averages:

  • Every second, another American is diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • Every 42 seconds, another American is hospitalized for Covid-19.
  • Every two minutes, an American dies of Covid-19.
Credit: The Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project

If these trends are not reversed, and if a successful vaccine is not available on a widespread basis soon (most experts expect late spring at the soonest), leading epidemiologists and other infectious disease experts say the pandemic could end up killing more people than any single natural or human-caused scourge in U.S. history, including the 1918–19 flu pandemic (675,000) and the Civil War (620,000).

The U.S. death toll of World War II (405,000) will almost surely be surpassed sometime this winter, given the current rise in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. That’s just simple math at this point, barring a significant ramp-up of mitigation efforts.

Plus: The undercount

The above figures represent only the official Covid-19 death toll. Two separate studies have compared total U.S. deaths in 2020 so far to…



Robert Roy Britt
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Founder/editor of Wise & Well on Medium & the Writer's Guide at & author of Make Sleep Your Superpower

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