According to official estimates from the CDC, Johns Hopkins University and other organizations that collect public health data, the United States is nearing the grim milestone of one million deaths from Covid-19.
Since February 2020, Covid-19 has been listed as the underlying cause of death on at least 90% of these death certificates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means the disease “initiated the train of events leading directly to death.” For the remainder, Covid-19 contributed to death but was not the underlying cause.
Covid-19 is now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.
For two years running, Covid-19 has killed more Americans than almost anything else. Around 462,000 Americans died from the disease in 2021 and 386,000 did in 2020, according to the CDC, accounting for 13.3% and 10.4% of all deaths, respectively. Only heart disease and cancer—sweeping terms that cover many distinct diseases—killed more. More than 150,000 people have already died from Covid-19 in 2022, a figure that would easily rank it among the top ten leading causes of death in recent years.
More than 150,000 people have already died from Covid-19 in 2022
Covid-19 has proven far more deadly than the flu—or HIV, or two world wars
Despite frequent comparisons to the flu in order to downplay the threat of the pandemic—including many by former President Donald Trump—Covid-19 has already killed nearly three times more people in a little over two years than flu does in a decade. According to the CDC, seasonal influenza killed roughly 360,000 people in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020. Covid-19 has killed more Americans than HIV has in the last four decades and nearly twice the number killed in both world wars. Covid-19 is not far from having killed as many Americans as every U.S. war between 1775 and 1991—nearly 1.2 million people—according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
More Americans have died from Covid-19 than the total population of six different states
Covid-19 has killed nearly double the population of Wyoming—around 577,000—according to the latest census data. It has also killed more than the number of people living in five other states and Washington, D.C.: Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Delaware.
The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but recorded 16% of Covid-19 deaths
The U.S. death toll far exceeds the official tally of any other country. It is followed by Brazil, India and Russia, which have reported around 664,000, 524,000 and 369,000 deaths, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. A lack of testing capacity, political incentives to undercount and poor record keeping in some countries mean official figures may undersell the actual number of Covid-19 deaths. Experts believe official counts for India and Russia capture just a fraction of deaths from Covid-19, for example.
The U.S. has a far higher Covid-19 death rate than other wealthy countries
Accounting for population, the U.S. ranks 18th in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data, behind Peru, Poland, Hungary and Brazil. For every 100,000 Americans, roughly 302 have died from Covid-19, the data shows, higher than other affluent countries. In the U.K. and France, both wealthy nations hit hard by the virus, this figure is around 259 and 226 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. For Australia, fewer than 29 people in every 100,000 died, with even fewer in Japan and New Zealand, respectively 23 and 15 per 100,000 people.
One million is likely an underestimate of Covid’s true death toll
The true death toll of Covid-19 in the U.S. is likely much higher than official figures suggest. Some deaths from Covid-19 are not counted as they can happen months after infection, others are documented as being caused by conditions with similar symptoms and others are caused by knock-on effects of the pandemic, such as an inability to seek treatment for another condition. The fragmented nature of the American healthcare system, different reporting standards in different jurisdictions and overwhelmed hospital systems exacerbated this. During the pandemic, there have been around 1.1 million excess deaths, according to the CDC, a metric that captures the difference between how many deaths are observed and how many would have been expected.
WHERE DID COVID HIT
The effects of the Covid-19 crisis have not been distributed evenly. Deaths came in waves that broke across partisan lines. The risks of infection were not borne equally either, with the majority of deaths recorded among the elderly and Black, Indigenous and Hispanic people, who died at far higher rates than white people.
Mississippi has the worst Covid-19 death rate in the country.
Mississippi has the worst Covid-19 death rate in the country
Across the country, there have been 299 deaths from Covid-19 per 100,000 people since the pandemic began through mid-April 2022, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In Mississippi and Arizona, the only two states to exceed 400 deaths per 100,000 people, there were 418 and 411 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people. In Hawaii and Vermont, death rates were around a third the national average at 100 and 102 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively.
These ten states have the worst Covid-19 death rates
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
These ten states have the lowest Covid-19 death rates
- New Hampshire
Covid-19 has been deadlier in Republican states
Of the 10 states with the highest death rates per capita, eight lean Republican, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University and provided to Forbes. Meanwhile, seven of the ten states with the lowest death rates in the country lean Democrat.
The majority of Covid-19 deaths were among older Americans
About three quarters of Covid deaths were reported among people 65 and above. Around a fifth were among people ages 45-64. Just over 4% of deaths were in people under 45 years, with the younger people within that cohort dying at much lower rates.
Men were hit harder than women
More men have died from Covid-19 than women. Around 55% of American deaths were recorded among men, according to the CDC, compared to 45% among women. Experts say there is no neat explanation for this gap, which means men have around 1.6 times the death rate for Covid-19 than women.
Black, Indigenous and Hispanic people died at far higher rates than white people
According to CDC data, American Indian or Alaska Natives are more than two times as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. For Black people, the risk of dying is 1.7 times that of white people and 1.8 times for Hispanic people. Death rates were slightly lower for Asian people compared to other ethnic groups, according to the CDC, around 0.8 times that of white people.
Covid-19 came in waves
The U.S. has endured several waves of Covid-19, though different regions experienced very different pandemics. Broadly, the number of deaths peaked in mid-2020 during the initial outbreak, in the winter of 2020-21, during a delta-driven wave during the fall of 2021 and the winter of 2021-22 as the omicron variant spread.
January 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic
More people died in January 2021 and December 2020 than did in any other months of the pandemic, according to CDC data, when Covid-19 claimed around 106,000 and 98,000 lives, respectively. This was followed by January 2022, when around 82,000 people died, the only other month where more than 80,000 people died.
We are in one of the least deadly stages of the pandemic so far
Besides the very beginning of the pandemic in 2020, fewer people died in June and July 2021 than did in any other month. Roughly 8,000 people died in June 2021 and 11,000 in July 2021, though deaths later surged throughout August and September, which were the fifth and seventh deadliest months of the pandemic. The number of deaths plummeted to around 13,000 in March 2022, down from nearly 48,000 in February, one of the deadliest months. Data for April 2022 is not complete and subject to change, though records indicate slightly fewer people may have died than during the previous month.
HOW VACCINES CHANGED THE COURSE OF THE PANDEMIC
The U.S. was one of the first countries to have access to the newly-developed coronavirus vaccines and one of the first to roll them out for most adults, children and as boosters. The shots are effective at preventing infection, serious illness and death from Covid-19 and reduce the risk of people passing the virus on if they do contract it. Health agencies around the world uniformly recommend that most adults get vaccinated and studies have consistently demonstrated both their efficacy and safety. Despite this, takeup has been uneven across the U.S., something that shows in the number of people dying from Covid-19.
Nearly 80% of Americans have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine
Around 66% of Americans are fully vaccinated and nearly half of eligible people have received a booster dose, according to CDC data. This is not evenly distributed, however, and while states like Vermont and Maine have more than 80% of people fully vaccinated, little over half are in states like Alabama (51%), Wyoming (52%), Mississippi (52%) and Louisiana (53%).
Unvaccinated people are more likely to catch and die from Covid-19
In February 2022, the risk of unvaccinated people over the age of 12 testing positive for Covid was more than three times greater than that for those vaccinated with at least two doses, according to the CDC. Their risk of dying was 20 times that of vaccinated people.
Death rates plummeted in highly vaccinated states
Before vaccines were widely available—a date Forbes crudely marked as June 1, 2021—New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island respectively had the three worst per capita death rates of any state. The trio embraced vaccination and now report some of the highest percentages of their population as fully vaccinated, respectively ranking first, seventh and ninth, according to data collated by the New York Times. In the time since the vaccine rollout, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have reported some of the lowest death rates in the country, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins University and analyzed by Forbes. For that period, they respectively had the ninth, sixth and seventh lowest death rate per capita. Connecticut, the fourth most vaccinated state, experienced a similar transformation, reporting the sixth worst per capita death rate before the rollout and the fourth best afterwards.
Before the vaccine rollout, these ten states had the worst Covid-19 death rates
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
After the rollout, these ten states reported the lowest Covid-19 death rates
- New York
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
Seven of these are among the ten most highly vaccinated states in the country
- Rhode Island
- New York
- New Jersey
The after effects of the pandemic will be felt long after things have returned to normal. Experts agree the virus is likely to stay with us, potentially shifting towards a seasonal phenomenon like the flu. The virus will still kill people, however, and many Americans will still be managing the fallout of the last two years.
U.S. life expectancy fell by more than 2 years during the pandemic
Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by nearly two years in 2020 to 77 years. The decline, the largest in a one-year period since World War Two, was primarily driven by Covid-19, the CDC said. Life expectancy continued to fall in 2021, according to preliminary research, dropping another 0.4 years. Life expectancy in other high income countries declined less severely compared to the U.S. in 2020 and rebounded in 2021.
For every four Covid-19 deaths in the U.S., a child loses a caregiver
An estimated 200,000 U.S. children have lost one or both of their parents to Covid-19 during the pandemic. Another 50,000 are estimated to have lost a secondary caregiver, such as a grandparent, to the disease. Losing a caregiver in childhood can be traumatic and have a significant impact on a child’s wellbeing in the long-term.
Millions of Americans could be suffering from Long Covid
Some people who get Covid-19 continue to experience symptoms for weeks, months or even years after their initial infection. Fatigue, muscle ache, brain fog and shortness of breath are all common complaints for people dealing with Long Covid, though symptoms can and do affect nearly any organ system in the body, including the kidneys, heart, lungs and brain. The precise cause and nature of Long Covid is not yet known and even people with mild or asymptomatic cases can develop the condition. Experts estimate between 10% and 30% of patients will experience Long Covid after recovering. As more than 80 million Covid-19 cases have been documented in the U.S. so far, between 8 and 24 million people could be suffering or have suffered from the condition.
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