Study: Deaths recorded during pandemic far exceeds those attributed to COVID-19

Study: Deaths recorded during pandemic far exceeds those attributed to COVID-19
COVID-19 graphic (Source: WIS)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - According to a new study, for every two deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the United States, a third American dies as the result of the pandemic.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, shows deaths increased by 20 percent when compared to previous years between March 1 and Aug. 1. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 only accounted for 67 percent of the deaths.

“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,” said lead author Steven Woolf, M.D., director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health.

The study also finds that states that reopened early in April and May may have created surges of COVID-19 that happened in June and July.

“The high death counts in Sun Belt states show us the grave consequences of how some states responded to the pandemic and sound the alarm not to repeat this mistake going forward,” said Woolf, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at the VCU School of Medicine.

According to the study, total death counts are consistent from year to year in the United States. Data was pulled from the CDC from 2014 to 2020.

Woolf says the gap between COVID-19 deaths and all unexpected deaths can partially be explained by delays in reporting, miscoding or other data limitations, but the pandemic’s ripple effects could explain more.

“Some people who never had the virus may have died because of disruptions caused by the pandemic,” said Woolf, VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Population Health and Health Equity. “These include people with acute emergencies, chronic diseases like diabetes that were not properly care for, or emotional crises that led to overdoses or suicides.”

The study found that there was an increase in deaths from dementia and heart disease. Woolf says Alzheimer’s disease and dementia deaths not only increased when the pandemic began but again in July and July when the COVID-19 surge happened in the Sun Belt.

“States like New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard early, were able to bend the curve and bring death rates down in less than 10 weeks. Meanwhile, states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona that escaped the pandemic at first but reopened early showed a protracted summer surge that lasted 16-17 weeks,” a release said.

The summer surges were still occurring when the study ended.

“We can’t prove causally that the early reopening of those states led to the summer surges. But it seems quite likely,” said Woolf. “And most models predict our country will have more excess deaths if states don’t take more assertive approaches in dealing with community spread. The enforcement of mask mandates and social distancing is really important if we are to avoid these surges and major loss of life.”

Woolf said the long-term data may show a broader impact the pandemic has on mortality rates, saying that preventable and early deaths may increase in the coming years.

“And death is only one measure of health,” Woolf said. “Many people who survive this pandemic will live with lifelong chronic disease complications. Imagine someone who developed the warning signs of a stroke but was scared to call 9-1-1 for fear of getting the virus. That person may end up with a stroke that leaves them with permanent neurological deficits for the rest of their life.”

For more information on the study, click here.

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