Uncounted COVID-19 Deaths Discovered in Excess Natural-Cause Mortality Study

Boston, Massachusetts – A groundbreaking study led by Boston University School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania has shed light on the significant undercounting of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States. The study, published in the journal PNAS, provides compelling evidence that many excess mortality rates previously attributed to natural causes were, in fact, driven by COVID-19 infections.

Official federal counts indicate that nearly 1,170,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19. However, multiple excess mortality studies suggest that these numbers are significantly underestimated. The new study challenges previous claims that excess deaths from chronic illnesses and other natural causes were unrelated to COVID-19, revealing a potentially overlooked aspect of the pandemic’s toll.

By analyzing reported COVID-19 deaths alongside excess deaths due to non-COVID natural causes, the researchers found a temporal correlation suggesting that many uncounted deaths were likely COVID-19-related. This correlation challenges notions that excess mortality during the pandemic was solely attributed to healthcare disruptions or other factors unrelated to the virus.

Dr. Andrew Stokes, the study’s corresponding author and an associate professor of global health at BUSPH, emphasized the importance of accurately identifying and assigning deaths during a pandemic. The study utilized novel statistical methods to analyze data from over 3,000 US counties, revealing that a significant number of excess natural-cause deaths were not attributed to COVID-19 on death certificates.

Geographical variations in death patterns were also observed, with nonmetropolitan areas experiencing a larger gap between non-COVID excess deaths and reported COVID-19 deaths. These disparities underscore the need for standardized and improved death investigation and certification processes to enhance public health responses and data accuracy.

The study’s findings have significant implications for understanding the true impact of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of public health interventions. By accurately accounting for uncounted COVID-19 deaths, researchers hope to inform future analyses and strategies to better address the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. The study was coauthored by researchers from various institutions, emphasizing the collaborative effort to unveil the hidden toll of the virus.