U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Higher Than Official Record, Study Says

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Feb. 21, 2024 -- The number of deaths from COVID-19 is at least 16% higher than official records show, according to a new study.

That’s largely because of a lack of awareness about COVID-19 and low testing levels, say the authors of the research published in PNAS

During the pandemic the U.S. had high rates of excess mortality, the authors wrote. Excess mortality refers to the difference between the observed number of deaths during a given period and the number of deaths that would be expected based on earlier mortality trends.

Between March 2020 and August 2022, the U.S. had 1.2 million excess deaths from natural causes. About 163,000 of them were not attributed to COVID-19, but most of them should have been, the researchers say.

They decided to look at the timing and locations of the excess deaths. They found that excess deaths went up in the month before peak surges in COVID-19.

“The mortality that’s not considered Covid starts a little bit before the Covid surges officially start and crests a little bit sooner,” said Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, PhD, one of the study’s authors, in The Guardian. She is an associate professor at the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.

Under-reporting of cases continued over the first 30 months of the pandemic, not just at the start when awareness about the novel coronavirus was still lacking. 

“It does profoundly reflect failures in the public health system,” Wrigley-Field said.

“Knowing mortality rates helps authorities allocate resources, including vaccines, treatments, and extra health workers, to the hardest-hit populations and regions, and it can help individuals make more informed decisions about taking precautions,” The Guardian wrote.