New York City Saw 24,172 More Deaths Than Normal During Outbreak

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New York City had four times the number of deaths as expected during its Covid-19 outbreak, according to a new study, including thousands of excess deaths that may not be attributed directly to the virus but to its effect on the health-care system, city services and other factors.

From March 11 to May 2, there were a total of 32,107 deaths, 24,172 more that the city would have expected in that time based on past trends, according to a report from New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that was published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Covid-19 was explicitly tied to 18,879 of the excess deaths through confirmed or probable cases, there were 5,293 excess deaths that may have come from other causes.

Excess deaths are a way of counting mortality that tries to capture not only victims of the virus, but also negative and positive side effects like people who died of a heart attack because they didn’t get to a hospital in time, or fewer people who died in auto accidents because of diminished road traffic.

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The thousands of extra deaths illustrate the ongoing toll of the outbreak that has killed thousands, hospitalized many more, and created collateral economic and health-care damage as businesses have been shut down, emergency response services have been overwhelmed, and many medical procedures and visits have been canceled or delayed to create capacity to treat virus patients.

“Monitoring of all-cause deaths and estimating excess mortality during the pandemic provides a more sensitive measure of the total number of deaths than would be recorded by counting laboratory-confirmed or probable Covid-19-associated deaths,” the researchers said. “Tracking excess mortality is important to understanding the contribution to the death rate from both Covid-19 disease and the lack of availability of care for non-Covid conditions.”

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene started tracking daily deaths in early March and comparing them to the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus, with the goal of accurately assessing the damage. The first death in New York City occurred on March 11, the same day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Tallying only people who tested positive and had the virus listed on their death certificates would have missed a number of cases, New York City’s Covid-19 Response Team concluded in the CDC publication.

Others may not have received tests, could have gotten false-negative results or become infected after initially testing negative, the researchers said. Others may have died outside of a health-care facility or the virus may not have been considered by medical staff, they wrote in their report. The city has reported a surge in deaths at home, some of which have been been Covid-19 victims who died before they could get care.

The researchers weren’t able to tie 5,293 deaths directly to the virus, either through testing or a death certificate review. Many of those people may have been affected by the outbreak, however. Patients with underlying health conditions, who may already be seriously ill, could be harder hit by Covid-19 and the virus might not immediately be blamed for their deaths, the researchers said. Others may have delayed or avoided getting care for fear of the coronavirus, while social distancing and busy hospitals may have also contributed, they said.

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