Hysteria and Shutdowns Caused 50,000 Non-COVID Deaths in the US

50,000 excess deaths so far. The coming toll from missed cancer diagnoses will be many times higher

Editor’s note: By another calculation the number is not 50,000, but twice that.


Researchers are finding growing evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic’s deadly reach [the insane reaction to it] is stretching far beyond people who died from coronavirus infections.

From Alzheimer’s disease deaths to fatal heart attacks, federal data show deaths in 2020 have exceeded those of previous years in numerous categories. Doctors and health researchers say the fatalities reflect the ways the pandemic [the lockdown] has amplified stress and financial strain while causing many people to avoid hospitals for fear of infections.

“For a long period of time there was a pretty dramatic drop-off in ER visits, elective-surgery screenings, things that Americans do all the time to keep themselves healthy,” said Tom Inglesby, who directs the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University.

The effects are piling up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked thousands of deaths this year beyond expected levels for conditions that also include hypertension, strokes and diabetes. Physicians say the surge was especially notable in the spring, when the pandemic hit New York and other parts of the Northeast hard.

Some of these additional deaths were probably caused by Covid-19 but not recorded as such on death certificates, but others likely represent indirect fallout from the pandemic [from the panic and lockdown], said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“We had no experience with this sort of thing, really,” Mr. Anderson said, regarding the pandemic. “The more we can learn about how things played out here and how the virus impacted mortality—not just directly, but indirectly—can help us God forbid we have another one of these.”

The CDC estimates there were somewhere between about 202,000 and 263,000 excess deaths in the U.S. this year through late August, measured against deaths from 2017 through 2019. The U.S. by that point had about 188,000 known Covid-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. In New York City, the citywide death count surged by 35,000 in the most recent fiscal year, far exceeding the 19,142 confirmed and 4,625 probable virus-related deaths, authorities said Thursday.

Researchers are still trying to understand these gaps between total pandemic-related deaths and those caused by coronavirus infections, including how many actual Covid 19-related deaths were undercounted. This could take years to unpack as scientists learn more about Covid-19 and wade through inconsistencies in how death certificates are filled out. Researchers also say there may also some positive lockdown-related effects that improved health, such as reduced air pollution.

Researchers from Boston University, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Pennsylvania used data from about 900 counties representing most Covid-19 deaths to estimate that 20% of excess deaths between Feb. 1 and late August were linked to something other than Covid-19. These deaths hit harder in communities with low socio-economic status and high percentages of Black residents, researchers found. Their work hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published yet.

Among Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, the CDC recorded about 200,000 overall U.S. deaths this year, up more than 27,000 when measured against the death average from the five prior years. The increase highlights how factors like isolation and disruption in care when nursing homes locked down further compromise fragile patients. For Alzheimer’s, dementia and several other medical conditions the CDC examined, most of the death certificates don’t list Covid-19, Mr. Anderson from the CDC said.

The CDC has counted about 16,000 more deaths from hypertension and about 10,000 more from diabetes through late August, compared with the recent five-year average. These are two areas doctors expect there were missed Covid-19 deaths, although they also say interruptions in care could have taken a toll. The American Diabetes Association cited survey evidence from June showing a quarter of people with diabetes were rationing supplies like insulin and testing strips while they endured higher-than-average unemployment.

“Diabetes is a very resource-intensive disease to manage, both from the resources in the health-care system and the resources in the home,” said Catarina Kiefe, chair of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass.

She and other researchers examined a rise in deaths in Worcester this spring when the pandemic was accelerating. They found only a fraction of Covid-19 deaths accounted for the increase. Hospital visits for common emergencies declined, a sign that researchers believe shows people were avoiding visits and raised the risk they could die at home.

A late-spring survey commissioned by the American Heart Association found 28% of Americans experiencing a heart attack or stroke preferred to stay at home than risk infection in a hospital. The CDC has reported more deaths this year linked to coronary problems and strokes while also estimating a 42% decline in emergency-department visits at U.S. hospitals during a four-week period this spring.

Mike Morris, a lieutenant with the paramedic division for Denver Health, a safety-net hospital in the city, noticed the rising number of at-home cardiac arrests this spring while working at a 911 call center. These sudden, often deadly events can follow heart attacks. Follow-up research showed the jump occurred after social-distancing measures were implemented.

“I feel that perhaps some people were less likely to call 911 and go to the hospital due to the pandemic situation,” Mr. Morris said.

Physicians say the care-avoidance problem has appeared to improve since the pandemic’s spring surge, and as they urge people to continue seeking help for emergencies. The heart association, for example, has a “Don’t Die of Doubt” campaign under way telling people to call 911 at the first sign of a heart attack or stroke. Medical interventions for both problems can save lives and lessen damage when done fast enough, doctors say.

Health authorities say there are other areas of concern. A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found many large U.S. counties are seeing a rise in fatal drug overdoses this year, amplifying a health crisis that was already worsening before the pandemic began. There are also worries about pandemic-related stress increasing depression and the risk of suicide. Anecdotal reports from medical examiners and coroners are pointing to increases this year, though there is no national data yet, said Mr. Anderson, from the CDC.

Still, it isn’t a foregone conclusion suicides will rise, said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which along with other groups released a recent survey showing people were more open to discussing mental health because of the pandemic.

The pandemic’s impact is expected to last long after a hoped-for vaccine is developed. Delayed care for issues like diabetes or heart problems could degrade peoples’ health over the long term, physicians say. Oncologists are concerned about missed cancer screenings leading to more advanced-stage cancers that might be found late.

“I think of it as a perfect storm in terms of disruption that has bad outcomes, both now and indefinitely,” said William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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