Excess Death Data – Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Before I launch into the data, please bear in mind that CDC explains the death data as, “Deaths with confirmed or presumed COVID-19.” To be clear, the deaths CDC lists may be confirmed by lab tests but they may also be presumed. In addition, those who died with Covid-19 in addition to those who died from Covid-19 are being counted as Covid-19 deaths calling official data into question. There is also evidence the case numbers may be inflated as hospitals are incentivized by higher insurance reimbursements to list cases as Covid-19. Incidentally, a couple weeks ago I ran into a friend who’d had a loved one in the hospital and shared that at one point someone quietly asked if they could list Covid-19 on the medical records.

Now for the data:

According to CDC, between February 1 and May 21, 2020 the number of deaths in Idaho, where I live, was 4,362, including 70 deaths from Covid-19. Of note, those 4,362 deaths are 97% of the deaths that would have been expected to occur normally, that means 135 fewer deaths occurred than the 4497 deaths expected during that period. Washington state, which was the original epicenter in the US likewise saw 98% of expected deaths while California experienced zero excess deaths. New York and New Jersey, two of the hardest hit states, saw excess deaths 29% and 49% higher than expected. 

One possible explanation for the higher rate in New York is Governor Cuomo’s order that nursing homes take infected patients discharged from hospitals. As those most at risk from Covid-19 are the elderly, ordering sick individuals into those facilities may have been a disastrous decision in particular because research in Italy in March found that 99% of coronavirus deaths suffered other health issues and the average age of those who died was 79.5 years.  

Most striking of the excess death data is that for the nation overall, the excess death rate during this period was just 2%. Of course, no one wants anyone to die from coronavirus or any other reason but being alive carries risk, that’s part of the equation, and when one considers the social, emotional, and economic damage done to the economy by a near nationwide lockdown, that 2% excess mortality number is an important number to consider.

As I’ve stated many times, I am not discounting anyone who has died from or been affected by this virus. I’m simply sharing information and wondering if the reaction is appropriate to the risk. Consider that research from the 1980s found for every 1% increase in unemployment, 37,000 additional deaths occur nationwide with 20,000 from heart attacks alone.

While official stats show an unemployment rate of 15%, those numbers do not include those who worked hourly or part time and do not qualify for unemployment meaning the true rate according to some researchers is 25% or higher. In numbers, 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment but the true number may be 50 million. Doing the math based on an increase in unemployment of 21 percentage points, that equates to 777,000 deaths. Sure, the federal assistance will help offset some of the hardship but growing numbers of companies are declaring bankruptcy and a $1200 check is not going to cover the loss of income let alone meet the demands for rent and other expenses. 

When I hear that the Mayor of Los Angeles has released a new order to wear masks outside the home (a topic for another blog) and extended the ‘stay at home order’ indefinitely, I have to wonder why. Why issue stay at home orders that cripple businesses and citizens, ensuring more unemployment, more suicides, more heart attacks? Why ensure untold emotional hardship from lack of human interaction, connection with our friends and families, and lack of human touch – all so critical to human health and wellbeing when the numbers are not material in the overall context of death seen each year? Does this make any sense? 

As a point of reference, 7700 people die every day in the US from all causes and the US has experienced 95,000 coronavirus deaths to date according to worldometers.com. In the 2017-18 flu season the US experienced 80,000 flu deaths and in the 2018-19 flu season 61,000 flu deaths.

To further understand the impact of the measures taken to during the pandemic, read this eye-opening letter from 600 doctors to the President warring of the dangers of a continued lockdown.