America pays deadly price of lockdown: 7,000 more Americans than usual have died every WEEK from the knock-on effect of pandemic restrictions this year, figures suggest
- The true total death count in the US in 2022 is estimated to be about 3.2 million
- The ‘excess’ deaths declined in 2022 but still eclipsed pre-pandemic levels
- The preliminary count could increase as Covid cases rise alongside flu and RSV
Seven thousand more Americans than usual died every week this year even as Covid-19 faded into the background, officials say.
It suggests more people are dying as a result of the knock-on effects of lockdowns, hospital closures and other curbs brought in during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it anticipates total yearly deaths to be 13 per cent higher than the 3.2 million recorded in 2019, the final normal year before Covid-19 hit.
That would indicate around 7,000 ‘excess deaths’ every week this year, a tally which could grow even higher as October and November data are incomplete, and a late Covid surge could still come, said Farida Ahmad, who leads mortality surveillance at the CDC.
The official death toll due to Covid-19 per the CDC is nearly 1.1 million, but that does not include associated deaths such as fatal overdoses during lockdowns
The term ‘excess deaths’ refers to the number of deaths during a crisis above and beyond what would have been expected under ‘normal’ conditions, so that includes directly and indirectly attributed to Covid-19
Deaths have been overwhelmingly among people over 85 years old and those with chronic underlying health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Covid-19 – which had killed roughly 260,000 Americans this year by Dec. 14 – is on track to be the third biggest killer this year, after heart disease and cancer.
While lockdowns and business closures have become a thing of the past as the pandemic has ebbed, they have left an indelible mark on American society.
Heart disease deaths have tended to surge in tandem with Covid deaths – in part because the virus worsens the underlying condition and takes a toll on your heart, increasing the risk of contracting heart disease.
The pandemic also caused a dip in the number of people seeing their doctors for preventative care including screenings for heart disease.
Cancer diagnoses have also ticked up significantly due to lockdowns restricting people’s ability to maintain healthy lives and an inclination for many to forgo preventative care services because they did not want to burden hospitals dealing with a flood of Covid patients.
Excess deaths refers to the number of deaths during a crisis above and beyond what would have been expected under ‘normal’ conditions. In this case, epidemiologists are interested in deaths directly and indirectly attributed to Covid-19.
There were roughly 30,000 excess deaths involving coronary heart disease, an average of 230 a week above the expected death rate, between March 2020 and August 2022.
Cancer deaths, meanwhile, also ticked up above normal during the pandemic. The number of cancer-related deaths was about 686,000 in 2020, up from 664,888 in 2019, with an annual increase of 3.2 per cent.
Conditions that worsened during the pandemic
Heart diseases: There were roughly 30,000 excess deaths involving coronary heart disease, an average of 230 a week above the expected death rate, between March 2020 and August 2022.
Deaths due to Alzheimer’s increased during the pandemic: More than 41,000 extra deaths from Alzheimer’s or another occurred in 2020
Drug overdose deaths and suicides rose: The CDC estimates there were a total of 109,673 overdose deaths in the year from April 2021 to April 2022 — a new record
Cancer deaths increased: The number of cancer-related deaths was about 686,000 in 2020, up from 664,888 in 2019, with an annual increase of 3.2 per cent.
Weekly deaths from high blood pressure grew by up to 70 per cent since the start of the pandemic
Ahmad said that it remains unclear whether the number of cancer deaths will also change based on preliminary data.
Dr Amira Roes, an epidemiologist and global health expert at George Mason University said: ‘We’re (still) definitely worse off than we were before the pandemic.’
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccines and Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid have been credited with averting 3.2 million deaths.
‘We all really would expect that the number of deaths — and the number of severe cases — would decrease, due to a combination of immunity from natural infection and vaccination … and treatment,’ Dr Roes said.
High excess mortality occurred because of drug overdoses and suicides, often referred to as deaths of despair. Overdose deaths hit an all-time high last year.
The CDC estimates there were a total of 109,673 overdose deaths in the year from April 2021 to April 2022 — a new record.
And the provisional death count is likely to be an underestimate, the CDC said, because drug overdoses can take months to be registered.
But provisional federal data reflecting the first seven months of 2022 suggests overdose deaths stopped climbing early this year, around the tail end of last winter.
The number of excess deaths in the US in 2022 will remain high, but are slated to fall short of those recorded in the last two pandemic years.
Preliminary data indicates that deaths due to all causes this year will be down about 3 per cent from 2020 but remain much higher than pre-pandemic 2019, when nearly 2.9 million Americans died.
More than 2.9 million deaths so far this year have been linked to the pandemic but not directly caused by Covid-19.
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