About 75,000 more Americans died from COVID-19 pandemic than reported in spring and summer, study finds
The coronavirus pandemic may have caused tens of thousands more deaths in the spring and summer than previously thought, according to a new study.
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond found that nearly 75,000 more people died from the pandemic than it did from March to July, according to the report published Monday in JAMA.
When examining the death certificates, the study found that more than 150,000 deaths were officially attributed to COVID-19 during that period. However, the researchers found that nearly 75,000 additional deaths were caused indirectly by the pandemic, bringing the total number of deaths in those four months to more than 225,000.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in the US is just under 215,000.
"There have been some conspiracy theories that the death toll from COVID-19 was exaggerated," said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. "The opposite is the case. We are actually experiencing more death than we thought. "
According to Woolf, the deaths indirectly caused by the pandemic are due to diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease, which have increased sharply in the same five states that recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths.
Delayed care, fears of care, or emotional crises resulting from the pandemic could also have contributed to these deaths, as could inaccurate death certificates that could have misidentified a COVID-19 death.
Woolf saw a similar pattern in an earlier study by researchers at the Universities of Virginia Commonwealth and Yale that looked at excessive deaths at the start of the pandemic, March through April.
In that study, researchers found that deaths from these other diseases occurred in states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, where coronavirus cases soared at the start of the pandemic. In June and July, Woolf said there were similar deaths in southern states, which saw a surge in coronavirus cases over the summer.
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Another notable finding is how long the surges lasted in different states. According to the study, deaths in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts were immense but short-lived, resulting in an "A-shaped" model.
However, in the Sunbelt states, excessive deaths gradually increased at the start of the pandemic and then skyrocketed in June until Woolf's team finished their research in July.
"This suggests that this is having some policy implications for the ramifications of some states' decision to relax restrictions at the start of the pandemic," he said. "It's kind of a warning call for the future."
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor and senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the study confirms what doctors see in the hospital every day and underscores how badly federal officials fared during the pandemic.
Empty chairs are on display to depict the 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19 at the National Covid-19 Remembrance on the ellipse behind the White House in Washington, DC on October 4, 2020.
While the study may only be a snapshot from March to July, he is still seeing a surplus of deaths from the coronavirus in the country.
"The fact is even now in the fall with all the knowledge and new tools ... this is still killing people at a far too high rate," Adalja said.
The study is contributing to research by the University of Washington that suggests nearly 400,000 people will die from COVID-19 or the aftermath of the pandemic this year. JAMA editor-in-chief Dr. Howard Bauchner said in an editorial published Monday that the death toll "cannot be overstated".
"These deaths reflect a real measure of the human cost of the 2020 Great Pandemic," he wrote.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
US TODAY health and patient safety coverage is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide any editorial contributions.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Excessive COVID Death Study: 75,000 more people died in the US than previously recorded
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