In the US, where vaccines have been widely available for months, it’s a shocking number of people — but while the official total will soon reach 650,000, the sad fact is we don’t know the exact number and probably won’t for some time.
A number of recent revelations illustrate the difficulty in keeping track.
National totals are also difficult to track. The CDC’s recorded total of deaths, more than 631,000, the agency acknowledges, is less than the likely total number of Covid deaths. CNN uses data from Johns Hopkins that puts the recorded US Covid-19 death total at more than 643,000.
While the number of reported deaths is closer to reality than either the documented number of Covid-19 infections or Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to the CDC, the officially reported death totals do not capture the entire universe of Covid-19 deaths.
The CDC lists several reasons, including: the death can occur weeks after infection, it can be attributed to another cause, and Covid-19 can make underlying conditions worse, and so the death can be attributed to another illness.
Dr. Ali Mokdad at IHME tried to simplify the formula that goes into their statistical model for CNN. In addition to the reported Covid deaths, IHME tries to account for excess deaths that can be attributed to:
- deaths to mental illness brought on by the pandemic
- deaths due to health care people did not get during the pandemic
- deaths due to lockdown risk factors like obesity and smoking
- deaths due to increases in social disruptions like obestiy and smoking
It then subtracts reductions in deaths due to other viruses, injuries and air pollution.
“There are a lot of unreported deaths,” Mokdad said in a video call. “Covid-19 will affect our mortality in many different ways.”
Those excess death projections were not a part of the IHME projection — its best guess — that more than 100,000 more Americans will die of Covid-19 before the end of the year.
One piece of good news is the Delta variant has been shown to move relatively quickly.
Mokdad compared it to a fire running out of fuel in states like Florida.
“It’s run out of wood — people to infect. And that’s why its coming down,” he said of Florida, which has seen fewer new infections recently. “The difference will be states that try to slow the disease and reach immunity through vaccination as opposed to rampant infection.”
The CDC tracks numerous projections, from IHME and other organizations, and plots them on a graph together.
Asked about IHME’s projection — 112,000 new Covid-19 deaths by December 31 — Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Americans have the power to change things.