CDC to examine report putting US COVID deaths at more than 900,000

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The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that the agency will look “carefully” at a new report that claims the true number of COVID-19 deaths in the US is more than 36 percent higher than the official total.

The analysis released Thursday by the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation gave the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States since March 2020 as 905,289 against an official total of 574,043.

“We’ve known that the toll of this pandemic is not necessarily just those who’ve passed from COVID-19 specifically, but excess deaths relating to access to care, not presenting to care, and many other things,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Friday. “So, we will look at this carefully, and then we will work within the CDC to make decisions as to whether to count them as excess or to count them as COVID-specific.”

IHME argues that the official death toll is comparatively low because governments only report coronavirus deaths that occur in hospitals or among patients with a confirmed case of the virus. The institute also claimed that its new analysis adjusted the so-called “excess mortality” figure to exclude deaths they attribute to factors like delayed healthcare appointments, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

As of April 24, the CDC estimate for the median number of excess deaths since the beginning of February 2020 was 628,940.

“As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse,” IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray said in a statement. “Understanding the true number of COVID-19 deaths not only helps us appreciate the magnitude of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to policymakers developing response and recovery plans.”

According to the IHME analysis, the US is one of five nations with more than half a million deaths from coronavirus. The others are India (654,395), Mexico (617,127), Brazil (595,903) and Russia (593,610). However, the report also finds that all but two of the countries with the highest coronavirus death rate per capita are located in Eastern and Southeastern Europe (Mexico and Peru are the other two).

“Many countries have devoted exceptional effort to measuring the pandemic’s toll, but our analysis shows how difficult it is to accurately track a new and rapidly spreading infectious disease,” Murray said. “We hope that today’s report will encourage governments to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 mortality reporting, so that they can more accurately direct pandemic resources.”

“I think we need to understand that the death toll of this disease has been attributable directly from COVID, as well as — as the collateral damage, I would say, of what has happened from COVID-19,” Walensky said Friday.

“And that, in my mind, is just more and more reason to continue to get vaccinated.”

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