Thursday, May 20, 2021

2017 Mortality was Worse than 2020

A lot of people have complained that the Wuhan coronavirus was the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu, but this PNAS paper tells a different story:
Because it has captured a great deal of national attention, the number of deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020 forms a timely basis of comparison. On 20 February 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 376,504 deaths ascribed to COVID-19 had occurred in the United States in calendar year 2020 (10). That figure is similar to but below the estimated total number of excess deaths of 401,000 in the United States in 2017 (Table 1).

The comparison is more striking when years of life lost is the measure used. Goldstein and Lee (11) estimate that the mean loss of life years for a person dying from COVID-19 in the United States is 11.7 y. Multiplying 377,000 decedents by 11.7 y lost per decedent gives a total of 4.41 My of life lost to COVID-19 in 2020, only a third of the 13.02 million life years lost to excess mortality in the United States in 2017 (Table 1). The reason that the comparison is so much sharper for YLL than for excess deaths is that COVID-19 deaths in 2020 occurred at much older ages, on average, than the excess deaths of 2017.

That is, 2017 was three times worse than 2020! Who knew?

I don't know what to make of this. The data come from a reputable source, and the article is published in a reputable journal. I don't remember a lot of people dying in 2017, but maybe I didn't notice.

The CDC is still listing excess deaths, and also says:

For over 5% of these deaths [involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)], COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned on the death certificate. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 4.0 additional conditions or causes per death.
So many of those would have been killed by those 4.0 additional causes, even without COVID-19.

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