In a study published Friday, researchers at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is almost double the official number in the US and more than twice as high as the reported worldwide tally.
Using data from May 3, 2021, the report says the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in the US was 574,043. The authors estimate that the number was actually much higher, at 905,289 deaths. The researchers also said that COVID-19 deaths are significantly underreported in other countries as well, bringing the global total to about 6.9 million, more than double the official estimate. For instance, in Russia, the total reported death toll is 109,334, but the researchers estimate that the actual figure is more than five times higher, at 593,610.
The numbers are skewed for many reasons, the IHME says, including missing deaths that occurred outside hospitals and those that exclude patients with an unconfirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. An additional factor, the researchers said, is an overwhelmed health care system, which leads to weaker reporting.
"As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse," Dr. Chris Murray, the IHME's director, said in the institute's report.
In their methodology, the researchers relied on several different data points to come up with their death estimates. The team compared "anticipated deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of all-cause deaths during the pandemic," they said in a press release. "This 'excess mortality' figure was then adjusted to remove deaths indirectly attributable to the pandemic (for example, due to people with non-COVID conditions avoiding health care facilities) as well as deaths averted by the pandemic (for example, declines in traffic deaths due to lower mobility)."
Only deaths directly attributable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are included in the final estimates, the researchers said.
Not everyone agrees with the IHME's estimates. A researcher who led an earlier study told NPR that he thought the institute's numbers were too high. Another researcher, though, told the publication that the IHME's study could help countries better determine where to deploy added resources.
As of May 6, 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 577,041 deaths in the US from COVID-19. The World Health Organization reported that 3.25 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19.
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