A new study estimates that a pandemic could kill more than 400,000 people in the United States this year. This includes those who died of COVID-19 and those who died due to the pandemic turmoil.
Alisa Chan, Host:
The total number of COVID-19-related deaths in this country could exceed 400,000 by the end of the year. That is according to a study conducted today in the medical journal JAMA. 400,000 is the number of Americans who died in World War II. Joining me now to talk about how researchers came up with this number is Joe Parka, a correspondent for NPR science. Hey, Joe.
JOE PALCA, byline: Hello, Ailsa.
Chan: So, we report that the number of deaths from COVID is now just over 200,000. I do not know. Will that number actually double by the end of the year?
Parka: No, because today’s research suggests that there is an undercount of deaths that may be associated with COVID-19. Please let me explain. There, Stephen Woolf was the director of the Center for Social and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, and he and his colleagues examined deaths from all causes this year and compared them to past mortality rates. And since it was higher this year, they thought the explanation was COVID-19 because it was the main difference in health.
Chan: That’s right.
Parka: So why is there a discrepancy between the numbers they are getting and the numbers reported? Well, I think they have two reasons. One of the reasons, according to Wolff, is that some people do not have COVID-19 on their death certificate.
STEVEN WOOLF: The second is people who do not have COVID-19 but have died due to the pandemic turmoil. So, as an example, someone may have chest pain. They are afraid to call 911 because they don’t want to get the virus and die of a heart attack.
Chan: Okay, but that’s not the same as dying on COVID-19.
Parka: No. But if you’re trying to estimate the burden that a pandemic puts on American health and national health, it’s certainly reasonable to count such types of deaths as a result of the pandemic.
Chan: I see. So I think these numbers are for the entire United States, but are there any regional differences regarding the impact of COVID?
Parka: Yes, there was. In fact, even states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, which responded aggressively to rising excess mortality at the beginning of the year, returned to normal past levels around May, about seven to eight weeks later. But states that never controlled outbreaks-they continue to see these excessive mortality surges, suggesting that public health measures were a major part of controlling things. ..
Chan: And, as you say, do we have any idea if these excessive deaths from pandemics are manifesting in other countries?
Parka: Yes, this is the pattern scientists see in other countries. But there is an interesting twist. Therefore, a paper comparing the over-mortality rate of the United States due to pandemics with the mortality rate of other countries that have been hit hard, such as Italy, Spain, and France, is also published in JAMA. And remember; these are countries of different sizes, so they are rates, not actual numbers.
Ezekiel Emmanuel of the University of Pittsburgh is a co-author of the study. And he says earlier this year, over-death in those countries was fairly comparable to the United States. But then they began to fall to levels close to pre-pandemic levels. And Emmanuel says it wasn’t in the United States. So what did those countries do? So what were those countries we didn’t do?
EZEKIEL EMANUEL: They didn’t have the vaccine we didn’t have. They didn’t have a special cocktail treatment that we didn’t have. The difference is how honestly we have implemented public health measures-physical distances, masks, keeping crowds small, not moving inside for social gatherings? And we had poor performance.
Chan: So is it possible to do better at this point and improve the situation here in America?
Parka: Yes. Emmanuel and Stephen Wolff of Virginia Commonwealth University say that implementing these measures Emmanuel was talking about could make a big difference and mortality could drop significantly by the end of the year. And the vaccine helps. The question is who we get the vaccine and who can get it, but that’s another day’s topic.
Chan: That’s Joe Parka from NPR. Thank you, Joe.
Parka: You are welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on the deadline in a hurry Verb8tm, Inc., NPR Contractor, created using a proprietary transfer process developed by NPR. This text may not be in final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR programming is the audio record.
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