As you can imagine, the death toll in the U.S. has been off the charts over the last few weeks as more patients become infected with the deadly coronavirus. However, new evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the death toll is much higher than what’s been reported in the news.
Health officials are trying to decode these numbers to find out why so many people are dying across the country, including those who may have been infected with the virus and those dying from other causes.
What the Data Shows
New statistics from the CDC suggest that the death toll from the virus could be 50% higher than what’s been reported. The data was recorded over five weeks, from March 8th to April 11th. Researchers compared the total number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus in each state with how many people actually died over that period of time.
For example, New York City reported 10,261 coronavirus-related deaths during this period, yet the city lost around 11,900 more residents than it normally would during this time of year. That tells us that around 1,700 excess deaths were either unrelated to the coronavirus or were not counted towards the state’s official death total.
The numbers are even more startling in New Jersey. The state lost 2,183 individuals to the coronavirus during the same period, but it experienced a whopping 5,200 more deaths than it normally would this time of year. That’s an additional 3,000 people who died on top of the state’s official virus death total.
Overall, the statistics show that around 9,000 additional Americans died between March 8th to April 11th than what was reported on the news.
Four Possible Explanations for the Rise in Deaths
So, why are so many additional people dying during this time?
- Unreported Cases of COVID-19
Many believe that these additional deaths are simply the result of underreporting. Official death counts may be inaccurate for a number of reasons. Some patients and individuals may have died from COVID-19 without being tested for the virus, which means they wouldn’t have been counted towards the official total. These patients may have been unable to get a test in their community, or they may have chosen to stay at home instead of going to a hospital.
Some states and cities may be suffering from a lag in coronavirus data as officials collect and analyze different data points. It may be weeks before we know exactly how many people died of COVID-19 during this time period.
There’s also a chance that many of these individuals died from non-virus-related causes.
It’s no secret that America has an obesity problem. That National Center for Health Statistics estimates that around 39.8% of adults aged 20 and over are obese (including 7.6% with severe obesity) and another 31.8% are considered overweight.
Forcing Americans to stay home and shelter in place probably didn’t help the obesity epidemic in this country. While initial reports show that most Americans aren’t gaining too much weight while in quarantine, this sudden lack of exercise can be a challenge for many Americans. Instead of visiting their local gym or going for a walk around the neighborhood, millions are stuck at home and are either choosing not to exercise there or are unable to do so.
Stress and anxiety can also lead to weight gain. Stress levels are rising across the country, which often means higher rates of food and alcohol consumption.
- Lack of Preventive Care
Americans may also be dying faster than normal thanks to a lack of preventive medical care. Hospitals and doctors’ offices have had to abruptly cancel elective procedures across the country to make room for coronavirus patients. However, elective doesn’t mean optional. Many of these procedures are urgent, including everything from routine colonoscopies to life-saving gallbladder surgery.
Skipping routine care and postponing elective procedures may be contributing to the death count as well.
- “Deaths of Despair”
Some of these excess deaths may also be described as “deaths of despair”. We heard that term often during the 2008 financial crisis. Financial stress can easily lead to suicide and other destructive habits. The number of deaths from suicide, from drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse have steadily risen since the 1990s. Many Americans are still suffering from the opioid epidemic, and a global pandemic probably isn’t helping their mental health.
When someone chooses to take their own life over personal and financial despair, the medical community refers to these cases as “deaths of despair.” For many people, the reality of losing their job or savings can be too much to handle, especially while they are cut off from friends and loved ones.
“Deaths of despair” have been rising in recent years. Studies suggest that around 158,000 deaths fall into this category every year.
If someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you can refer them to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Remember that the coronavirus pandemic has completely turned life upside down for millions of Americans. Some of your patients may be more likely to die from suicide, weight gain, alcohol, and drug addiction than they are to die from COVID-19. Keep these trends in mind as you look after your patients during this stressful time.