This is a topic I've been wanting to cover for a while now. Unfortunately Canada just doesn't have the data available currently, so I looked to the USA. Luckily, the CDC data is quite robust, so should be able to offer plenty of insight into the true toll of COVID-19.
The purpose of this post is to establish the excess deaths that have occurred so far this year in the USA. Excess deaths are those deaths that occurred over and above what would have been expected for a specific time frame. Let's dive in.
The time frames we will compare will be the weeks ending February 2 to May 18 2019, and February 1 to May 16 2020.
2019 - During the above time frame, for the entire USA there were 912801 deaths from all causes, including Puerto Rico. Of these, 84375 (9.2%) were deemed to be from Flu, Pneumonia, Chronic lower respiratory diseases or Other lower respiratory diseases.
2020 - During the above time frame, for the entire USA there were 929765 deaths from all causes, including Puerto Rico. Of these, about 76000 (8.2%) (the week ending May 16 had to be estimated based on previous weeks data) were deemed to be Flu, Pneumonia, Chronic lower respiratory diseases or Other lower respiratory diseases.
Total deaths often increase annually due to increases in population, but let's ignore that for simplicity and just assume the expected deaths for 2020 are the same as 2019. See note at the end of this post for further context. For the 15 weeks in question, the excess deaths in 2020 are 16964 (929765-912801). That amounts to 161 excess deaths per day over the 15 week period. On average, 782 daily deaths (about 5x the excess deaths) have been attributed to COVID-19 during that same 15 week period. This means that there are about 70000 (out of 87000 total) deaths during that 15 week period that were attributed to COVID-19, that numerically were expected to likely occur anyway. That's about 80% of reported COVID-19 deaths that may have died of another cause and would have died at the same time regardless of COVID-19. This would reduce the USA death toll as a result of COVID-19 from nearly 300/1M to about 55. For comparison, the expected death rate for the same time frame for Flu, Pneumonia and other respiratory disease is about 255/1M.
I want to make sure it is clear I am not attempting to extrapolate this data to the world and say 80% of all COVID-19 deaths were actually other causes. I think it's likely the US is the country to have the most inflated figures due to the nature of their incentivised healthcare system. There was a NY Times article recently published that reported on several European countries (as well as NYC) that indicated their excess deaths were even higher than reported COVID-19 deaths. That said, it's interesting how they only used NYC when all US data is available. Likely because it didn't fit the story they were covering which is another big reason why I started this page. I can confirm for NYC, that in this time frame there were about 23000 excess deaths, around 17000 attributed to COVID-19. It's actually quite interesting though, that outside of NYC the excess deaths in the US are technically negative, meaning in the rest of the country less people have died overall vs 2019.
This post wasn't intended to draw any strong overall or wide reaching conclusions, but I think it's very important to understand as much about the actual numbers as possible. The US accounts for almost 30% of the worlds reported deaths due to COVID-19 so it's very telling that potentially up to 80% of them are just normal deaths that were numerically expected anyway. Hopefully death by all cause information will become available for more places, especially Canada, sooner than later so we can continue to get a sense of the true toll of COVID-19.
It's also very important to note that in 2020, expected deaths will likely be less as a result of fewer auto accidents, less viral transmission for other illnesses and other factors as a result of the lock downs. Conversely, there will certainly be an uptick in deaths as a result of the lock downs from things like domestic violence, suicide (some places have reported an increase in calls to suicide hotlines by over 6000%) and the largest toll will likely come from poor health outcomes due to cancelled procedures and hospitals that are not doing anything other than urgent care. It will likely be some time before there is data available to further reconcile this and be able to come to a more accurate and conclusive understanding of the toll of COVID-19. For now, we must simply use the information that we have with our critical thinking hats on, armed with the knowledge that there will be fewer deaths in some areas and more in others as a result of the lock downs. Either way, It's highly unlikely the net result of the lock down over 15 weeks would be 70000 fewer deaths, which is what would be required to make 100% of the COVID-19 reported deaths, true excess deaths.