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5 Slide Series

Volume 102

Comparison of US Deaths During 2020 and 2021 With Previous Years

This edition examines the impact of the pandemic on overall deaths in 2020 and 2021. Comparing excess deaths (deaths above the pre-COVID annual average) at the national level from April 2020 to December 2021, we find that annual deaths in the US were more than one-fifth higher in 2020 and 2021 than they were on average between 2017 and 2019. We calculate 1.09 million excess deaths have occurred during the pandemic to date, which is about 264,000 (32%) above the number of COVID-confirmed deaths during this time (831,000). We also find the population-adjusted per capita death rate increased by 18% during the pandemic years compared to the pre-pandemic baseline – well above the second largest annual death increase in the last twenty years experienced between 2014 and 2015 (2.5%).

We also find that January 2021, October 2021, and May 2020 were the deadliest months of the pandemic to date in terms of overall deaths as a percent of expected deaths, with December 2021 deaths not yet fully reported. In 2020 and 2021, 7 months had more than 300,000 overall deaths (5 in 2020 and 2 in 2021), whereas no month had this many deaths during the 2017-2019 timeframe. 

Lastly, we estimate excess deaths from suicide, homicide, motor vehicle accidents, and drug overdoses in 2020 where complete data is available. Compared to the 2017-2019 average for each category, there were a net 28,700 deaths above what occurred in those pre-pandemic years – a number that only explains one-quarter of excess deaths not officially caused by COVID. This implies that the increase in deaths during the pandemic was induced by more than changes in the above categories; we find it reasonable to conclude that many of these excess deaths were indeed caused by COVID but not directly reported as such.

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