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Study estimates there have been twice as many COVID deaths as reported

A research institution whose projections were often cited by the White House has a new estimate for how many deaths COVID-19 has actually caused.

WASHINGTON — The researchers behind a key coronavirus projection now estimate the COVID-19 pandemic has actually caused 6.9 million deaths worldwide, more than double what official numbers show. 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine was regularly cited by the Trump administration early in the coronavirus pandemic for its projections on COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

The research organization said Thursday its new analysis found deaths have been significantly underreported in almost every country. 

As of Thursday, the official death count was 3.2 million globally and 579,929 in the U.S, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. However, according to IHME, the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. is more than 905,000. 

In India, which has seen its daily cases break records almost daily, the IHME said the death toll is likely more than 654,000, not the 221,000 officially reported by India's health agency.

“As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse,” said Dr. Chris Murray, IHME’s director. “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.”

As part of the new methodology to determine COVID-19 deaths, IHME said it compared anticipated deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of all-cause deaths during the pandemic. Researchers then took this “excess mortality” figure and removed deaths that were indirectly attributable to the pandemic. 

The research institution explained in its announcement that many deaths from COVID-19 have gone unreported because countries only report deaths that occur in hospitals or when patients have a confirmed infection. 

Credit: IHME
IHME at the University of Washington School of Medicine projects COVID-19 has caused around 6.9 million deaths, double what official numbers show.

"In many places, weak health reporting systems and low access to health care magnify this challenge," the group said in a press release.  

The Trump administration had often brought up IHME's projections during the daily COVID-19 briefings. While the group's estimates provided a range of where the number of fatalities would fall, often the forecasts for COVID-19 deaths underestimated the numbers reported throughout the pandemic.  

Travis Pittman contributed to this report.