The True Toll

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December 23, 2020 8:54 a.m.

This is the ultimate measure of the COVID pandemic in the United States: at least 400,000 more Americans died in 2020 than died in 2019. The total is about 3.2 million, the first time it’s ever been more than 3 million. Not all of those deaths were due to COVID infections. The official COVID death toll is currently around 320,000. But virtually all are due to the pandemic – both COVID infections and collateral impact, which can range from acute stress (grief, economic dislocation) to degraded quality of medical care and myriad impacts of everything that has happened this last year.

If we transport ourselves back to those first weeks in January and February, when COVID was a thing happening in China that over time seemed more and more likely to end up in the US, this is what we could have known: that the impact would mean more than 400,000 people in the US would end up dying who wouldn’t otherwise have died in 2020.

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