Over 100% increase in deaths in US states hit hard by coronavirus compared to previous years, shows CDC data

New York City, for example, has seen a jump in deaths of 219% compared to the same period in 2017-2019


                            Over 100% increase in deaths in US states hit hard by coronavirus compared to previous years, shows CDC data
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The number of people who have died so far across several US states hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic has seen a massive jump this year as compared to the same time period in 2017-2019, according to an analysis done by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some of the states where deaths have been far higher than normal include New Jersey (percent of expected deaths is 131% higher than normal), New York (122%), Massachusetts (112%), Michigan (106%), Maryland (105%), and Colorado, Illinois, and Vermont (104%). The CDC says that these are provisional death counts, which will not match counts in other sources, such as media reports or numbers from county health departments. It has been 100 days since the first COVID-19 case was identified in Seattle, in January.

For the study, the CDC analyzed deaths involving coronavirus disease, pneumonia, and influenza in the US, for the weeks ending February 2, 2020, to April 25, 2020. The percent of expected deaths in the report is the number of deaths for all causes for this week in 2020 compared to the average number across the same week in 2017-2019, say experts.

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“Percent of expected deaths are based on the total count of deaths in the most recent weeks of the current year, compared with an average across the same weeks of the three previous years (that is, 2017-2019). Percent of expected deaths are shown to provide context for interpreting provisional counts of COVID-19 deaths and deaths due to related causes. Where estimated values are high (for example, greater than 100%), this suggests that mortality is higher in 2020 relative to the same weeks of prior years,” the report explains.

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In New York City, which is the epicenter of the outbreak in the US, data as of April 30 shows that the percent of expected deaths has seen a spike of 219% compared to a similar period in 2017-2019. This includes 10,978 reported deaths from COVID-19 and 30,711 deaths from all causes.

Deaths (data as of April 30) involving COVID-19, pneumonia, and influenza in the US. Percent of expected deaths is the number of deaths for all causes for this week in 2020 compared to the average number across the same week in 2017–2019. (CDC)

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However, these numbers are preliminary because death certificates take time to be processed and collected, and complete death tallies from the CDC can take up to eight weeks to become final. Death data, once received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), are tabulated by the state or jurisdiction in which the death occurred. COVID-19 deaths may also be classified or defined differently in various reporting and surveillance systems.

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“Death counts in this report include laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 deaths and clinically confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes. This delay can range from 1 week to 8 weeks or more, depending on the jurisdiction, age, and cause of death,” says the report.

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It adds, “Previous analyses of provisional data completeness from 2015 suggested that mortality data is approximately 27% complete within 2 weeks, 54% complete within 4 weeks, and at least 75% complete within 8 weeks of when the death occurred.”

Thus the new data is partial and most likely undercounts the COVID-19 death toll significantly. For example, as far as the US is concerned, data shows that there have been 34,521 COVID-19 deaths and 713,386 deaths from all causes. However, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker, over 1,070,030 COVID-19 cases have been reported from across the US, and 63,019 have died in the coronavirus pandemic as of May 1.

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Number of deaths reported in this table are the total number of deaths received and coded as of the date of analysis and do not represent all deaths that occurred in that period. (CDC)

Again, in New Jersey, CDC data shows that there have been 4,147 COVID-19 deaths and 25,480 deaths from all causes. However, according to the New Jersey Department Health, 7,228 deaths have been reported as of April 30, and there are 118,652 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. 

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Further, the CDC says that pneumonia and influenza deaths were included in the report as COVID-19 may be misclassified as pneumonia or influenza deaths in the absence of positive test results, and pneumonia or influenza may appear on death certificates as a comorbid condition. “Additionally, COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to influenza-like illness, thus deaths may be misclassified as influenza. Thus, increases in pneumonia and influenza deaths may be an indicator of excess COVID-19-related mortality. Additionally, estimates of completeness for pneumonia and influenza deaths may provide context for understanding the lag in reporting for COVID-19 deaths, as it is anticipated that these causes would have similar delays in reporting, processing, and coding,” the findings state.

Meanwhile, a breakup of the US COVID-19 deaths shows that 23,441 people have died in a healthcare setting (inpatient), 1,648 deaths have occurred in a healthcare setting (outpatient or emergency room), 44 were dead on arrival in a healthcare setting, 2,415 deaths were at home, and 439 died in a hospice facility. The CDC report also shows 6,160 deaths happened in a nursing home/long term care facility, 369 have been described as ‘other,’ and the place of death is not known in the case of five people.

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