Covid 19 Excess Deaths in America

Covid 19

This article was last updated on June 15, 2022

While I have pretty much sworn off posting missives on the pandemic, recent research released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) caught my attention since it clearly outlines the downside of governments’ responses to the COVID 19 pandemic.

The paper by Casey B. Mulligan and Robert D. Arnott entitled “Non-Covid Excess Deaths, 2020 – 2021: Collateral Damage of Policy Choices?” opens by noting that the pandemic prompted governments to use extraordinary but untested responses to control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

While governments willingly supplied their citizens with daily updates of cases and related COVID-19 deaths, there was little information provided on non-COVID deaths that were a direct consequence of their actions.

As a database, the authors used the online CDC-Wonder tools to tabulate every death certificate filed int he United States.  Each of these death certificates contains the following information:

1.) a single underlying cause of death

2.) up to twenty additional multiple causes of death

3.) demographic data including age

In 2020, a new code (U07.1) was added when COVID-19 was among the causes of death.

The authors looked at nine death cause groups including:

1.) alcohol-induced causes

2.) drug-induced causes

3.) diseases of the circulatory system

4.) diabetes and obesity

5.) homicide

6.) motor vehicle traffic

7.) respiratory

8.) COVID-19

9.) all other causes

The authors did look at cancer deaths but included them with residual causes since cancer deaths were not noticeably higher than normal up to the end of 2021.

Age and cause-group excess deaths were estimated by subtracting predicted deaths and unmeasured COVID-19 deaths from all deaths reported to the CDC.  Each month’s deaths are expressed as an annual rate by dividing the number of days in the month and multiplying the result by 365.25.  The estimation period of predicted deaths is from January 1999 to December 2019 inclusive.

Here are the results expressed as annual rates over the period from April 2020 to December 2021 for four age groupings:

1.) Age zero to 17 – no excess non-COVID deaths

2.) Age 18 to 44 – excess non-COVID deaths – 29,000, 26 percent above baseline

3.) Age 45 to 64 – excess non-COVID deaths – 33,000, 25 percent above baseline

4.) Age 65 plus – excess non-COVID deaths – 35,000, 18 percent above baseline

The top causes of excess non-COVID-19 deaths for Americans 18 years of age and older are as follows:

1.) Circulatory diseases – 32,000 deaths or 4 percent excess above baseline

2.) Diabetes or obesity – 15,000 deaths or 10 percent excess above baseline

3.) Drug-induced causes – 12,000 deaths or 13 percent excess above baseline

4.) Alcohol-induced causes – 12,000 deaths or 28 percent excess above bascline

5.) Homicide causes – 5,000 deaths or 27 percent excess above baseline

6.) Traffic accidents – 4,000 deaths or 11 percent excess above baseline

7.) All others – 18,000 deaths or 1 percent excess above baseline

Total excess deaths are 97,000 above previous trends with more than half of excess non-COVID-deaths being among non-elderly adults, particularly caused by drugs, alcohol, homicides and traffic accidents.  Mortality from all causes for Americans aged 18 to 64 years during the pandemic was elevated by 26 percent compared to only 18 percent for Americans aged 65 years and older.

Here is a quote from the conclusions of the working paper with my bolds:

Summing our estimates across causes and age groups, we estimate 171,000 excess non-Covid deaths through the end of 2021 plus 72,000 unmeasured Covid deaths. The Economist has assembled national-level mortality data from around the world and obtains a similar U.S. estimate, which is 199,000 (including any unmeasured Covid) or about 60 persons per 100,000 population (Global Change Data Lab 2022). For the European Union as a whole, the estimate is near-identical at 64 non-Covid excess deaths per 100K. In contrast, the estimate for Sweden is -33, meaning that non-Covid causes of death were somewhat low during the pandemic….

While it the causes are currently undetermined, it is interesting to see that Sweden, a nation whose response to the pandemic was far less disruptive than that experienced in just about every other advanced economy, actually experienced lower than normal non-COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic.

Let’s close with this final quote from the authors which nicely summarizes their study, again with my bolds:

Due to interest in the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic on public health, we express many of our findings in terms of deaths relative to pre-pandemic trends. For two or three cause groups, the previous trends themselves were already alarming, only to be surpassed during the pandemic.

Given the pre-pandemic health situation, we find it especially notable that non-Covid health outcomes were not more closely monitored to, among other things, determine whether public or private Covid policies were aggravating them. Critics will likely suggest that the public policy choices did not lead to the large number of non-Covid excess deaths, that these excess deaths were a consequence of personal choices, driven by fear or boredom. We do not disagree that this may be a key driver of excess non-Covid deaths. But, we would point out that this is no excuse for ignoring this soaring death toll, or pushing an examination of these deaths to the back burner.

During the pandemic, governments were laser-focussed on case and death numbers rather than looking at the negative repercussions of their unprecedented and often heavy-handed response to the pandemic.  Even when independent research was showing that their mandates were failing to stem the spread of COVID-19, the ruling class insisted that they were following “the science”.  Just ask Canadians how that is working for them and their twice-infected, fully-vaccinated and boosted Prime Minister.  In some cases, medicine is worse than the illness.

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