CDC Releases Detailed National Excess Death Data

A row of refrigeration units used as makeshift morgues are seen parked behind Belleview Hospital Center, New York City on March 30, 2020. (Photo by John Nacion/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control took a step May 1 towards shedding light on the pandemic’s true death toll.

The CDC published a new tool on its website that calculates excess deaths in the United States from January 2017 to the present day, providing a baseline of the average U.S. mortality rate compared with what’s been observed.

The data reveals that, for the week ending April 11, the United States saw 79,761 deaths —  a 36.8 percent increase over the norm. In the same week, New York City recorded 7,029 deaths — a whopping 526.5 percent increase from the city’s weekly norm.

The CDC gathers mortality data from state governments around the country on a weekly basis. Though the early numbers are raw and may have duplicates or other errors, they provide a rough estimate of the COVID-19 pandemic’s true toll.

The data shows deaths both of people who tested positive for COVID and of those who likely would not have died, but for the pandemic. That total could include people who died of COVID but were never diagnosed, or those who put off needed doctor’s appointments or had to wait too long for overtaxed ambulances.

The new tool is the first centralized source of data on U.S. excess deaths, updated in relative realtime. Reporting lags mean that the most accurate national data is around two weeks behind the current date.

The CDC’s graphics take into account reporting lags, and offer the option for “weighted” counts. Those numbers project excess deaths to account for what the CDC describes as “potential underreporting” by states.

Before now, most excess death reporting relied on piecemeal releases by local authorities. New York City, for example, released data last month suggesting that, including COVID-related deaths, there had been around 13,500 excess deaths in the five boroughs as the pandemic peaked.

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