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COVID-19

Pandemic death toll may have been undercounted, researchers say

Jasmine Garsd Jul 2, 2020
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Medical personnel at Brooklyn Hospital Center move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck in April. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Pandemic death toll may have been undercounted, researchers say

Jasmine Garsd Jul 2, 2020
Heard on:
Medical personnel at Brooklyn Hospital Center move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck in April. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The COVID-19 death toll is rising in America. And a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that it might be higher than we think, by quite a bit.

So what are the implications for how government and hospitals face the pandemic moving forward?

Unsurprisingly, in March through May, there were more deaths in the U.S. than usual — around 122,000 more. But only 95,000 of them were officially attributed to COVID-19.

Now researchers say many of the remaining deaths — up to 28% more — may have been related to COVID-19. Anything from people who avoided going to the hospital for heart attacks to those who were just never properly diagnosed.

“It turns out there were a lot more people dying at home of heart attacks during peak COVID in New York City than you would’ve expected,” said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, one of the authors of the study.

This has serious implications for hospitals.

“They may not ask for the correct amount of mechanical ventilators, or personal protective equipment, or personnel that they may need,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja with Johns Hopkins University.

In other words, he says, underreporting can translate into being underprepared.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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