The Pandemic’s Hidden Toll Is Revealed in Excess Death Counts

Although the official death toll from COVID in America has reached 600,000, it is possible that this number is much higher. Andrew C. Stokes, a global health professor at Boston University, and his colleagues discovered that only 82% of deaths in U.S. counties where there was a significant excess of deaths (deaths above the expected number) could be attributed to COVID in a preprint study. * The largest gaps were found in rural areas, especially in the South and West. These gaps could be due to COVID deaths misattributed to other causes, or indirect deaths as a result of the pandemic's economic and social impacts.
Many patients were not able to get COVID testing because there was a severe shortage. Stokes and his team speculate that coroners or other elected officials without medical experience might not have identified COVID as the cause or declined to list it because of political reasons. Researchers say that some New England counties had fewer deaths than usual last year, possibly due to a reduction in other causes of death and people staying at home.

Credit: Amanda Montaez. Source: Calvin A. Ackley and Dielle J. Lunberg, Irma A. Elo, Samuel H. Preston, Andrew C. Stokes

*Excess deaths were calculated using provisol mortality data as of June 3, and could be subject to change.