VCU study: COVID-19 accounted for 67% of March-Aug. U.S. deaths
State reopening policies could have fueled surges, according to VCU/Yale study
For every two deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S., a third American dies as a result of the pandemic, according to a study led by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study shows that deaths between March 1 and Aug. 1 increased by 20% when compared to previous years — but deaths attributed to COVID-19 accounted for only 67% of those deaths.
“Contrary to skeptics who claim that COVID-19 deaths are fake or that the numbers are much smaller than we hear on the news, our research and many other studies on the same subject show quite the opposite,” lead author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health, said in a statement.
State reopening policies in April and May could have fueled the June and July surges, according to the study.
“The high death counts in Sun Belt states show us the grave consequences of how some states responded to the pandemic and sound the alarm not to repeat this mistake going forward,” Woolf said in a statement.
COVID-19 reporting delays could have to do with the gap between reported coronavirus deaths and all unexpected deaths, according to the study. It could also be led by miscoding or other data limitations.
“Some people who never had the virus may have died because of disruptions caused by the pandemic,” Woolf said in a statement. “These include people with acute emergencies, chronic diseases like diabetes that were not properly care for, or emotional crises that led to overdoses or suicides.”
The study showed increases in deaths from dementia, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Woolf also says early death rates related to cancer may also have increased due to treatments being disrupted during the pandemic. It also stated that long-term conditions such as diabetes and emotional health issues could be compromised in the long term.
States such as New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard during the early months of the pandemic, were able to bring down death rates in less than 10 weeks, while states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona, which avoided an early hit, experienced a summer surge that lasted 16 to 17 weeks after.
“We can’t prove causally that the early reopening of those states led to the summer surges. But it seems quite likely,” Woolf said in a statement. “And most models predict our country will have more excess deaths if states don’t take more assertive approaches in dealing with community spread. The enforcement of mask mandates and social distancing is really important if we are to avoid these surges and major loss of life.”
The study was conducted using data from March to Aug. 1 and builds on a previous JAMA article by the same authors. Authors of the study included Derek Chapman, Latoya Hill, DaShaunda Taylor and Roy Sabo from VCU, as well as Daniel Weinberger from Yale University.
“This isn’t a pandemic involving a single virus,” Dr. Peter Buckley, dean of the VCU School of Medicine, said in a statement. “This is a public health crisis with broad and lasting ripple effects. VCU researchers have been diligent in their investigations into both treatment of COVID-19 and in understanding the long-term repercussions of the pandemic, so that fellow doctors, policymakers and community members can fight these battles on multiple fronts.”