Total "Excess" Mortality in the US Rapidly Declined in May 2020
Due partly to big increases in deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the northeastern United States, total mortality increased to more than 34 percent above the 2017–19 average in the US during April. According to CDC data, For week 14 (ending April 4) through week 18 (ending May 2) total mortality was 366,592. That was up 34.9 from the average for the same weeks from 2017–19 (274,096). For the weeks of May, on the other hand, we found that from week 19 (ending May 9) to week 22 (ending May 30) total mortality was up by 15 percent in 2020 (totaling 241,095) compared to the average for the same weeks during 2017–19 (213,358).
We are now five weeks out from the end of May, so it is likely totals will still be adjusted up somewhat, perhaps resulting in an increase of around 20 percent above the 2017–19 average.
This percentage increase is likely to be even smaller for the weeks of June once those numbers are compiled more completely. As we see in the first graph, total mortality was sizable during April, coming in above even 2018's fairly severe mortality attributed to a particularly deadly flu season.
Since May 2, no weekly total has matched 2018's high of 67,495.
Looking at total mortality is important in gauging the full impact of COVID-19. In a typical week in the United States, 50,000–60,000 Americans die. It is important to examine total deaths attributed to COVID-19 in this context. That there has been "excess" death is clear at this point. Total deaths were up by around 40 percent during mid-April in the US. Not all of this could be attributed to COVID-19, but much of it could be, or at least to diseases with similar symptoms.
Nonetheless, the US never reached true crisis-level strains on its medical infrastructure, as noted by physician John Ioannidis in a recent interview:
Greek Reporter: We had been told that we needed to “flatten the curve” — and we did so in the US, did we not? No health system was completely overwhelmed, not even in NYC, where they did not completely run out of ventilators.
Dr. Ioannidis: The predictions of most mathematical models in terms of how many beds and how many ICU beds would be required were astronomically wrong. Indeed, the health system was not overrun in any location in the USA, although several hospitals were stressed. Conversely, the health care system was severely damaged in many places because of the measures taken.
Greek Reporter: Finally, you had stated in March that, regarding lockdowns, they may be “bearable for a time, but how can policymakers tell if they are doing more good than harm?” if they are protracted. “School closures,” you stated, ”may reduce transmission rates” but may also “diminish the chances of developing herd immunity.” Even more important, perhaps, is this point you made — “One of the bottom lines is that we don’t know how long social distancing measures and lockdowns can be maintained without major consequences to the economy, society and mental health.
“Unpredictable evolutions may ensue, including financial crisis, unrest, civil strife, war and a meltdown of the social fabric.” Your thoughts, please, on how many of these things have indeed come to pass in this country as you had feared.
Dr. Ioannidis: I feel extremely sad that my predictions were verified. “Major consequences on the economy, society and mental health” have already occurred. I hope they are reversible, and this depends to a large extent on whether we can avoid prolonging the draconian lockdowns and manage to deal with COVID-19 in a smart, precision-risk targeted approach, rather than blindly shutting down everything. Similarly, we have already started to see the consequences of “financial crisis, unrest, and civil strife.” I hope it is not followed by “war and meltdown of the social fabric.”
Indeed, many deaths factored into total mortality during April and May can be attributed not to COVID-19 itself, but to the closures and shutdowns mandated by governments. We still have yet to see the full effects reflected in any government statistics, but we know severe child abuse, domestic abuse, suicides, drug overdoses, and cancer deaths all increased due to government-imposed stay-at-home orders and the government-forced deferment of necessary medical procedures for non-COVID conditions. Many of these medical procedures were arbitrarily labeled as "elective" procedures, and many Americans were unable to receive important diagnostic tests or medical procedures.
The government officials who caused their deaths and injuries continue to ignore these impacts, and are again hinting at enforcing new stay-at-home orders.