CDC Data Suggest Death Toll From COVID-19 May Be Higher Than Reported

The 7 hardest-hit states all have mortality rates between 113% and 172% higher than normal, while New York City’s death rate is 325% higher than usual.

New reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that not only are mortality rates up to 3 times higher than normal in states hard hit by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, but the real numbers may be significantly higher due to a lag in reporting.1

The 7 hardest-hit states—New York (excluding New York City), New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland, and Illinois—all have mortality rates between 113% and 172% higher than normal, while New York City’s death rate is 325% higher than usual.1

Between March 8 and April 11, the data show that each of the 7 states and New York City experienced significantly more deaths than would be typical in previous years during the same time frame:1

  • With a death rate 172% higher than normal, New Jersey has experienced 5200 more deaths than usual, 2183 of which are reported deaths due to COVID-19.
  • New York state (excluding New York City), has a death rate 142% higher than usual. The state has experienced 4200 more deaths than is typical, 2425 of which are reportedly due to COVID-19.
  • Michigan’s mortality rate is 121% higher than normal, with 2000 excess deaths, 1391 of which are reported COVID-19 deaths.
  • Massachusetts has a death rate 120% higher than usual. There have been 1200 more deaths than usual, 686 of which are reportedly due to COVID-19.
  • With a death rate 116% higher than usual, Colorado has seen 600 excess deaths, 274 of which were reported COVID-19 deaths.
  • Maryland has a death rate 115% higher than usual, with 700 excess deaths. Of those, 207 deaths were reported to be due to COVID-19.
  • The death rate in Illinois is 113% higher than is typical, with 1400 excess deaths, 682 of which were reported to be due to COVID-19.

New York City has been the epicenter of the virus in the United States. The city has seen 11,900 more deaths than is usual between March 8 and April 11, 10,261 of which were reported deaths due to COVID-19.1

Although these numbers are already significant, the CDC noted that data currently are lagged by an average of 1-2 weeks and will likely not include all deaths, especially for the most recent weeks.1

In addition to lagging data, some other evidence does suggest that the death tolls may be higher than reported in many hard-hit regions. New York City, for instance, just recently began including the deaths of presumptive positive patients—those who had not been tested but are presumed to have died due to COVID-19. After that announcement, the city saw a spike of more than 3700 deaths attributed to the virus since March 11.2

Researchers have also suggested that deaths due to some treatable illnesses may have increased, as patients are less willing to go to the hospital or see their physician for fear of contracting COVID-19. For example, a draft paper from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that hospitalizations for ST-elevation myocardial infarctions decreased by 38% across 9 major hospitals in March.2

Although it is hard to tell right now exactly how non-COVID-19 deaths fit into the larger picture, health officials are focusing on maintaining as much accuracy as possible.

“Behind every death is a friend, a family member, a loved one,” said New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, MD, according to Reuters. “We are focused on ensuring that every New Yorker who died because of COVID-19 gets counted.”2

REFERENCES

  • Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Data Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; updated April 28, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/. Accessed April 29, 2020.
  • Chiacu D, Caspani M. New York City posts sharp spike in coronavirus deaths after untested victims added. Reuters; April 14, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa/new-york-city-posts-sharp-spike-in-coronavirus-deaths-after-untested-victims-added-idUSKCN21W20G. Accessed April 29, 2020.
  • Garcia S, Albaghdadi M, Meraj P, Schmidt C, et al. Reduction in ST-Segment Elevation Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory Activations in the United States during COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of the American College of Cardiology; Accepted April 7, 2020. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/accj/early/2020/04/07/j.jacc.2020.04.011.full.pdf. Accessed April 29, 2020.