U.S. Pandemic-Related Deaths Undercounted, Study Finds
Total could reach 400,000 this year as mental health concerns grow
The U.S. death toll from Covid-19 so far reflects only about two-thirds of the excess deaths the country has seen this year, a new study finds. The rest are thought to be a mix of Covid-19 deaths that were not counted as such, due to miscoding or delays in reporting, along with increases in deaths related to the stress and health care challenges caused by the pandemic.
Scientists are also seeing pandemic-related increases in substance abuse and mental health disorders that they fear could have lasting effects on large swaths of the population.
Total deaths are very consistent from year-to-year, so the over 200,000 Covid-19 deaths this year make an easy-to-see blip in the long-term trend. Thing is, the blip is bigger than that. In the new analysis, deaths between March 1 and August 1 were 20% higher than in the same period in previous years, but only 67% of that excess tally had been officially attributed directly to Covid-19.
“Contrary to skeptics who claim that Covid-19 deaths are fake or that the numbers are much smaller than we hear on the news, our research and many other studies on the same subject show quite the opposite,” says the study’s lead author, Steven Woolf, MD, director emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health.
“Some people who never had the virus may have died because of disruptions caused by the pandemic,” Woolf says.”These include people with acute emergencies, chronic diseases like diabetes that were not properly cared for, or emotional crises that led to overdoses or suicides.”
The new findings, detailed October 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest that more than 400,000 people will die in the United States this year than the recent annual average, even as some causes of deaths, like car crashes, might see declines because people are driving less. Those excess deaths mostly if not entirely be considered pandemic-related, Woolf and colleagues say.
In research reported earlier this year, Woolf and colleagues found unusual spikes in U.S. deaths for diseases that are normally consistent…