US Tops List of COVID-19 and All-Cause Death Rates Since May
US Tops List of COVID-19 and All-Cause Death Rates Since May

US Tops List of COVID-19 and All-Cause Death Rates Since May

The authors of a new analysis conclude that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved with a more coordinated national response to the coronavirus.

Max Kozlov
Max Kozlov

Max is a science journalist from Boston. Though he studied cognitive neuroscience, he now prefers to write about brains rather than research them. Prior to writing for The Scientist as...

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Oct 14, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the US, with more than 216,000 confirmed deaths attributed to the disease and much of the population still vulnerable to the virus. A new report in JAMA released this week (October 12) compares how 19 countries that have employed different virus response strategies have fared since early May, finding that the US has the highest COVID-19 death rate.

“It’s shocking. It’s horrible,” Ezekiel Emanuel, a former White House health adviser who chairs the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a coauthor of the report, tells NPR. “The United States really has done remarkably badly compared to other countries. I mean, remarkably badly.”

Emanuel and his Harvard University colleague looked at COVID-19 death rates through mid-September in 19 countries that have a population greater than 5 million and a gross domestic product of at least $25,000 per capita. They also tabulated the rates of death from any cause, which accounts for those that may have been due to the coronavirus but were never confirmed, for 14 countries with available data through July 25. 

The report showed that the US had more deaths per 100,000 people than other high-mortality countries such as Italy and Sweden, and the most deaths per capita from any cause since May among all 14 countries.

Adjusting for population, US overall deaths this year are more than 85 percent higher than Germany and Canada and more than 29 percent higher than Sweden, “which ignored everything for so long,” Emanuel tells NPR. Sweden took an unconventional approach to the virus and imposed few restrictions and no lockdown. “We have 29% more mortality than we should have if we’d followed Sweden’s path and Sweden virtually did nothing,” Emanuel says.

The authors also concluded that if the US COVID-19 death rate after May 10 were similar to that of Italy’s, the US would have had 91,604 fewer deaths.

“Italy didn’t have anything special or different in terms of treatment, vaccines, diagnostics compared to the United States,” Emanuel tells CNBC. “What they had is better implementation of the public health measures, and that actually could have saved tens of thousands of lives in the United States.”

Another study published in JAMA October 12 found that the overall US death rate rose 20 percent in the time period from March to August compared to expected deaths, with 67 percent of the excess deaths arising from the virus.