Total US deaths from any cause plummeted in last week amid the strict societal shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were over 5,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US during week 12 of the year:
But overall deaths plummeted to 37,641 according to the CDC (this was later revised to 48,488). Week 13 is reported as 44,402 deaths overall, which is 20 percent lower than the average week 13 deaths from 2014-2019 and was lower than any death total in that time span.
What could account for this?
Of course the social distancing measures have reduced the spread of common infectious disease such as influenza, which leads to upwards of 60,000 Americans a year.
But lower rates of infectious disease can’t account for that many fewer deaths in one week.
We know there are tens of thousands of deaths a year from car crashes and these have been reduced significantly due to less traffic. But if we had no traffic fatalities, that would only reduce the total US deaths by around 750 each week.
More deadly than infectious disease and auto accidents combined, however, is iatrogenic illness–that is injury by healthcare. A 2013 study in the Lancet estimated the following causes of death:
- 12,000 due to unnecessary surgery
- 7,000 due to medication errors in hospitals
- 20,000 due to other errors in hospitals
- 80,000 due to nosocomial infections in hospitals
- 106,000 due to non-error, negative effects of drugs
That puts total iatrogenic death at over 225,000 a year. An Institute of Medicine study put that total at 230,000 to 284,000 a year.
Since all non-acute healthcare has been postponed, that means that iatrogenic death has been dramatically reduced, lowering the death toll by upwards of 4,500 a week.
It is irony upon irony that a disease such as COVID-19 has had a net negative in death rate for the US thanks to prevention measures that has limited healthcare services, which account for the third highest cause of death in the country.