TYLER, Texas — It will not be long before the COVID-19 death toll in America crosses half a million. However, VERIFY continues to receive questions about whether that number is inflated and if it masks the true impact of the virus.
How does the number of deaths from all causes in 2020 compare to 2019 or 2018?
Masks, lockdowns, shuttered businesses and overwhelmed hospitals. The effects of the pandemic are clear. Whether they reflect the deadliness of the coronavirus is something people ask.
Since COVID-19 is most severe for people with underlying health conditions, many people argue that the way coronavirus deaths are counted exaggerates its deadliness. Instead, they say we need to know whether the total number of deaths changed compared to before the pandemic because that would tell us how many the pandemic is responsible for.
Our source for this information is the National Center for Health Statistics, which is the part of the Centers for Disease Control that keeps death records. It tracks the number of deaths from all causes each week as the death certificates get written and submitted.
Since the data are measured weekly, they do not coincide perfectly with the calendar year but are close enough to be useful.
From December 31, 2017, through December 29, 2018, 2,831,836 Americans died from all causes. From December 30, 2018, to December 28, 2019, 2,845,792 deaths were reported, a small increase. From January 5, 2020, through January 2 of 2021, 3,332,482 people died. That is an increase of 479,050 or 17 percent, compared to the year before.
VERIFY can say that the pandemic caused a significant increase in the death rate in the U.S.
What the increase does not reveal, however, is the exact cause of those deaths. Some will be because of COVID-19, but others could be due to increases in suicides, homicide, substance abuse, or medical problems that did not receive the same level of care as in years past. That information will come later as a more detailed analysis is completed.