COVID-19 deaths in US likely much higher than reported in early weeks of pandemic, new analysis finds

U.S. deaths soared in the early weeks of the pandemic, surpassing the number of COVID-19 related deaths, as well as the number normally expected for the time period, according to The Washington Post. 

The Post compiled overall death data from the National Center for Health Statistics and COVID-19 death counts from state health departments. Expected death estimates were provided by New Haven, Conn.-based Yale School of Public Health's Modeling Unit, which used NCHS data on all deaths between 2015 and early 2020 to estimate the number of deaths normally expected each week from March 1 to April 4.

According to the analysis, an estimated 15,400 excess deaths occurred from March 1 to April 4, nearly double the 8,128 deaths attributed to COVID-19 during that time. The excess deaths estimate was calculated by subtracting the expected seasonal baseline from all deaths.

The excess deaths were not necessarily caused by COVID-19 and include other causes of death, such as suicides, homicides and car accidents. The number also encompasses people who may have died because they were afraid to seek medical treatment for unrelated illnesses. Interviews and 911 call data from several cities indicate a jump in the amount of people dying at home, making them less likely to be tested for COVID-19 or included in official death counts.  

Confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the weeks leading up to April 4 fail to capture the full effect of the pandemic, which likely has a much higher death toll than what's been reported, Daniel Weinberger, MD, leader of the research team and epidemiology professor at Yale, told the Post.

Experts say reporting lags and initial counts that only used lab-confirmed cases contributed to an incomplete picture early on.

The national and local number of COVID-19 deaths won't be known with confidence until at least a year from now, Dr. Weinberger said.

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