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Excess Deaths in the US in 2020 have increased by 20%– and COVID-19 is not the only cause.


The rate of excess deaths in the US has increased by over 20%– and COVID-19 is only responsible for two-thirds to three-quarters of them. Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart and vascular disease, and pneumonia have also been blamed for excess mortality.

An article in the New York Times on December 13 gives detailed tables for the excess mortality this year. For example, diabetes mortality is 15% higher this year than normal. Many other diseases show abnormally high mortality. These figures are originally from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and can be seen here.

Some of the excess can be blamed indirectly on the pandemic. For example, the isolation of Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes has led to faster deterioration and hastened deaths. Pneumonia in non-COVID patients may be misdiagnosed since, without direct testing for SARS-COV-2, cases of pneumonia due to bacteria and other viruses clinically appear the same. Patients with myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and strokes may have avoided going to the emergency room due to fear of COVID infection, resulting in increased mortality from lack of treatment.

Excess mortality from diabetes, which is the biggest single cause of excess deaths this year, can be explained by poorer control of the condition due to fewer visits to medical providers– although this is contentious. Diabetes may not be well-controlled by people who are isolated or who have difficulty obtaining proper foods. Those who are affected by job loss or other causes of income or stability loss may be unable to access their medications. Since diabetes affects poor people more than the well-to-do, this may be a cause.

Of course, all the diseases that show excess mortality are also risks for those who contract COVID-19. People with diabetes, hypertension, and dementia all have increased death rates when infected. What relation this has to separate death rates is unclear. Those who have COVID-19 are counted as dying from it, whether they have co-morbidities or not. It may be that some people with these conditions may have actually had the virus when they died and were simply not diagnosed.

States that have been severely affected by the pandemic show higher excess mortality. For example, New Jersey, which was hit hard this spring, showed a 37% increase in diabetes mortality. New York City had a 39% increase in mortality from hypertension (high blood pressure.) New York City also had a 50% increase in pneumonia and influenza mortality. These numbers are hard to explain except by misdiagnosis of people who actually died of COVID-19.

Read the article and look at the diagrams. Decide for yourself what this increased overall mortality in addition to deaths from COVID-19 means. It is clear that the virus has not been over-diagnosed, and if anything has been under-ascertained.

(illustration courtesy of S Hermann and F Richter photo via

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