Coronavirus Deaths Are Not Fake: Total Deaths Recorded During the Pandemic Far Exceed Those Attributed to COVID-19

2020 Mortality Chart

This graph shows the number of weekly excess deaths for the 10 states with the largest number of excess deaths during March-July 2020. The dates on the graph indicate when broad COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in each state using data from reports by The New York Times. Credit: Courtesy of JAMA Network

States that reopened sooner, such as Texas, Arizona and Florida, experienced summer surges, report says.

For every two deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S., a third American dies as a result of the pandemic, according to new data publishing today (October 12, 2020) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, shows that deaths between March 1 and Aug. 1 increased 20% compared to previous years — maybe not surprising in a pandemic. But deaths attributed to COVID-19 only accounted for 67% of those deaths.

“Contrary to skeptics who claim that COVID-19 deaths are fake or that the numbers are much smaller than we hear on the news, our research and many other studies on the same subject show quite the opposite,” said lead author Steven Woolf, M.D., director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health.

The study also contains suggestive evidence that state policies on reopening early in April and May may have fueled the surges experienced in June and July.

“The high death counts in Sun Belt states show us the grave consequences of how some states responded to the pandemic and sound the alarm not to repeat this mistake going forward,” said Woolf, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at the VCU School of Medicine.

Total death counts in the U.S. are remarkably consistent from year to year, as the study notes. The study authors pulled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2014 to 2020, using regression models to predict expected deaths for 2020.

The gap between reported COVID-19 deaths and all unexpected deaths can be partially explained by delays in reporting COVID-19 deaths, miscoding or other data limitations, Woolf said. But the pandemic’s other ripple effects could explain more.

“Some people who never had the virus may have died because of disruptions caused by the pandemic,” said Woolf, VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Population Health and Health Equity. “These include people with acute emergencies, chronic diseases like diabetes that were not properly care for, or emotional crises that led to overdoses or suicides.”

For example, the study specifically showed that the entire nation experienced significant increases in deaths from dementia and heart disease. Woolf said deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increased not only in March and April, when the pandemic began, but again in June and July when the COVID-19 surge in the Sun Belt occurred.

This study, with data from March to August 1, builds on a previously published JAMA article by the same authors from VCU and Yale University that focused on data from March to May 1. And it brings in new data about the timing of when states lifted restrictions on social distancing.

States like New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard early, were able to bend the curve and bring death rates down in less than 10 weeks. Meanwhile, states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona that escaped the pandemic at first but reopened early showed a protracted summer surge that lasted 16-17 weeks — and was still underway when the study ended.

“We can’t prove causally that the early reopening of those states led to the summer surges. But it seems quite likely,” said Woolf. “And most models predict our country will have more excess deaths if states don’t take more assertive approaches in dealing with community spread. The enforcement of mask mandates and social distancing is really important if we are to avoid these surges and major loss of life.”

Woolf paints a grim picture, warning that long-term data may show a broader impact of the pandemic on mortality rates. Cancer patients who have had their chemotherapy disrupted, women who have had their mammograms delayed — preventable, early deaths may increase in the coming years, he said.

“And death is only one measure of health,” Woolf said. “Many people who survive this pandemic will live with lifelong chronic disease complications. Imagine someone who developed the warning signs of a stroke but was scared to call 9-1-1 for fear of getting the virus. That person may end up with a stroke that leaves them with permanent neurological deficits for the rest of their life.”

Diabetes complications that aren’t being managed properly could lead to kidney failure and dialysis. And behavioral health issues, like emotional trauma, are going untreated. Woolf worries most about the lasting effects on children — long-term, generational outcomes.

“This isn’t a pandemic involving a single virus,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “This is a public health crisis with broad and lasting ripple effects. VCU researchers have been diligent in their investigations into both treatment of COVID-19 and in understanding the long-term repercussions of the pandemic, so that fellow doctors, policymakers and community members can fight these battles on multiple fronts.”

Co-authors on Woolf’s paper include: Derek Chapman, Ph.D., Latoya Hill, DaShaunda Taylor and Roy Sabo, Ph.D., of VCU; and Daniel Weinberger, Ph.D., of Yale University.

The study complements another VCU researcher’s recent data showing an alarming surge in opioid overdoses at VCU Medical Center during the pandemic. Taylor Ochalek, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wright Center, found a 123% increase in nonfatal overdoses between March and June this year, as compared to last, in a study also published in JAMA.

Woolf notes that the CDC has released provisional overdose deaths under a broad label called “external causes,” which also includes car crashes and homicides, making research like Ochalek’s all the more important.

“Car crashes decreased because fewer people were driving during the lockdowns,” Woolf said. “We worry that the broad umbrella category of ‘external causes’ may hide an increase in deaths from overdoses, because the opioid epidemic didn’t go away.”

The CDC, Woolf added, has rushed out provisional mortality data this year because of the pandemic. More reliable, granular detail will come out later and allow researchers to unpack the detailed contributors to excess deaths and secondary health impacts of the pandemic.

Researchers across multiple disciplines at VCU are studying the secondary health impacts of the pandemic — from substance use disorders and intimate partner violence to diminished access to regular medical care — all of which could contribute to loss of life, according to Woolf’s study.

Reference: “Excess Deaths From COVID-19 and Other Causes, March-July 2020” by Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH; Derek A. Chapman, PhD; Roy T. Sabo, PhD; Daniel M. Weinberger, PhD; Latoya Hill, MPH and DaShaunda D. H. Taylor, MPH, 12 October 2020, JAMA.
DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.19545

14 Comments on "Coronavirus Deaths Are Not Fake: Total Deaths Recorded During the Pandemic Far Exceed Those Attributed to COVID-19"

  1. OK if someone got hit by a garage truck and died and it was later determined that they had Covid and would have died anyway, lets just say they doesn’t it matter? If you are pushed off the edge of a cliff that you are already on was it your decision to go there or the pusher that caused it? You decide!

  2. Any ‘study’ that criticizes Sunbelt states for opening and fails to mention the horrific death toll in New York, worst in the nation, gets no respect from me.

  3. Change the title to – Coronavirus Deaths Are Not Fake: Unexpected Results Scientists baffled!

  4. “We can’t prove causally that the early reopening of those states led to the summer surges.” Done

  5. “We can’t prove causally that the early reopening of those states led to the summer surges.”

    The entire article in one sentence.

  6. Randolph A Knight, MD | October 12, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Reply

    They didn’t “prove” that smoking caused lung cancer and COPD for many years. The indications were there, but waiting for “proof” killed literally millions of people.

  7. As someone who has put off medical procedures since the beginning of the pandemic, I find it entirely plausible that others have done the same. As such the likelihood of persons dying from coved-19 related causes without contracting the virus is also likely. I find the study interesting and am looking forward to further definition.

  8. Whether the surge in southern states is due to early opening or A/C use is still to be determined. It is curious that the second wave is occurring in the northern states when heating resumes. What I really find bizarre is the CDC’s conclusion that the mortality rates are lower than feared due to yet unproven silent infections, numbers that the CDC pulls from thin air.

    • Mark Dover: “It is curious that the second wave is occurring in the northern states when heating resumes.” It is not curious that it is occurring in the RURAL states where masks were uncommon and in the convergent paths to and from maskless Sturgis. What is sad is that these regions may surpass their first high points.

  9. YES COVID 19 IS FAKE!! its that simple, firstly it does not exist! it wasn’t made in a lab, its not 5G, its not a mutated form it just doesn’t exist! People who state they know people who have died from it or have had it, remember who actually told you that information! the tests in place PCR, Antigen, Antibody all pick up on many coronaviruses including common colds, as they all share extremely similar RNA sequencing and Protein markers. This entire Scenario is for one thing only, CONTROL! its happening here in the UK, we are being segregated more and more the media and government have been working for years to segregate communities based on gender, race, age, etc. Now they are segregating us by areas with a 3 tier lockdown. With the ultimate goal of a cashless socioty and the track and trace becoming not only digital health passport but to include all aspects of your life, medical, financial, spending, ownership, Access… the list goes on they will have all your infomration centralised, you will not be able to do anything without them knowing, not only that but they can stop you form going anywhere, you can be put under house arrest in an instant, you will not be able to go to your shop or gym or even your family/friends house as they will know, you will automatically be tracked through the ever developing app. if you refuse to use it you just don’t have access to anywhere! the whole point in the factious virus is to wear everyone down and then show them a way out, what will seem like a lesser evil to regain some normality! If you have a look at the British medical Journal, they have even got information on this it has also been released in the media (albeit by name only) operation moon-shot! just part of the extract:
    What is a digital passport?
    Testing for access to certain spaces features heavily in the documents, with reference to “immunity/virus free passports,” likely to be available through an app. The plans say that testing could be used to “give people assurance that, at least for a limited time, they are unlikely to have the virus and are at low risk of transmitting it to others.”

    They say, “A negative test result (or potentially a positive antibody result) may inform not just whether you could attend an in-patient appointment, but if you go to work that day, access a venue, get on a flight or visit an elderly relative.” The documents also point to a “significant expansion” of testing funded and delivered by the private sector, such as in football stadiums to allow access.

    I have studied applied biochemistry at university, the information we are being given by the governments, media and science community that are working for the governments doesn’t add up! why do you think so many academics and doctors who are stating the same things have been silenced! why no debate? we have been conditioned over the last few years regarding “fake news” so we automatically dismiss these people as we are being told its fake news, that coupled with the media lumping anyone who doesn’t tow the line in with the nutters who are anti-vaxers, 5G conspiracy nuts and bio weapon nutters! don’t live in fear, pathogens and disease has always been part of life unfortunately and always will be, we cant give up our freedom based on fear or what’s the point! even to those who say I’m doing it to protect my mum/dad/nan, etc. so are they going to live on there own afraid, lonely, miserable until they do die? or would you rather enjoy what limited time we all have on this earth? I implore everyone to resist this what the governments are doing!

  10. Just to add another extract from the moon shot article:

    Are there any plans to get the public on board?
    The documents show that there have been discussions over how to incentivise people to be tested. They point to enforcing testing “via a sanction-based model” or through “offering individuals opportunities/access from being tested,” such as being able to attend events.

  11. What is the point of showing total excess deaths vs by percentage or per-capita? Obviously an attempt to mislead.

  12. They’re Heeeere!

  13. Angelique Borgmeyer | October 23, 2020 at 11:27 am | Reply

    For those exclaiming the virus and the pandemic are “fake”, I would like to offer these topics of consideration:
    The implication present is that the governing bodies of nations which despise each other, are at constant war or at a state of constant near war would be able to put aside their every difference and disagreement to coordinate the perpetuation of such a purported global grandiose lie. To consider such would be preposterous.
    Perhaps the inequities in data being given are indeed politically driven in that the human propensity for hate is so great that meting out small data segments and arching data together with vague statements is safest when dealing with a species who refuses to believe legitimate science when it is delivered. One can easily see a correlation between data of patterns of behavior and data of death rates. At the most basic levels of reasoning that is significant enough to warrant public acceptance. Unfortunately this is a time of political unrest, to put it mildly. Limiting business, limiting social interactions, limiting a person’s access to what they want, becomes tantamount to treason. As a people the needs and rights of others are of decreasing merit when self must change to accommodate them.

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