Tags: Coronavirus | pandemic | deaths | data | covid | 19 | testing

The Official US Death Toll Now Tops 34,000, but the Actual Number Is Very Likely Higher

bodies are wheeled into a makeshift morgue
Bodies are moved to a refrigerator truck serving as a temporary morgue outside of Wyckoff Hospital in the Borough of Brooklyn on April 4, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:13 PM

U.S. coronavirus death totals, now surpassing 34,617 on Thursday, are still just the "the tip of the iceberg," as many untested for COVID-19 and dying at home are not represented in the data, according to a mortality statistics expert.

"The biggest challenge in obtaining an accurate tally of COVID-19 deaths is to implement widespread testing," University of Texas-Austin professor Mark Hayward, who examines mortality data for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Newsweek.

"Locales that lack testing and where populations are rural, reside in nursing homes, or people live alone are likely to be major contributors to the undercount; note that these are not mutually exclusive categories.

"There are also varying standards [and timing of rollouts] of testing by state," Hayward added. "Cause-of death classification schemes have also been evolving, and it's not always straightforward in assigning COVID-19 as a cause of death. I think the biggest barrier, though, is the lack of testing."

President Donald Trump told reporters at the coronavirus task force briefing 3.5 million tests have been conducted in the U.S. to date, and Vice President Mike Pence predicted the U.S. will have completed more than 5 million COVID-19 test by the end of the 30 days to slow the spread April 30.

Hayward's summations are still speculation, albeit educated speculation.

"I do not have an actual figure of underreporting and this will vary over time as testing becomes more widespread," he told Newsweek. "The degree of under-reporting will vary across localities in the U.S. and over time. The geographic and temporal variability are tightly linked because of the geographic differences in testing."

The U.S. is hardly the only country to be faced with the grim challenge of trying to make official and actual casualty counts align.

Earlier this month, for instance, The Wall Street Journal reported that the death count in hard-hit Italy was likely much higher than the official figure -- on April 1, that official coronavirus casualty count was just over 13,000. The discrepancy was attributable to similar factors: people dying at home, unseen and therefore uncounted, while time, manpower to conduct counts and coronavirus testing were in limited supply.

A case in point, as cited by the Journal: In the hardest-hit area around the city of Bergamo, some 4,500 people died of coronavirus in March, according to data analysis firm InTwig, while only 2,060 were included in the data provided by the Civil Protection Agency.

Most of the elderly victims died in their homes or in nursing homes and, because they never made it to hospital, were never tested for the virus, according to the study based on data from doctors and overseen by a professor at Bergamo University.

In the States, the CDC is issuing new guides to add "probable COVID-19 deaths in the absence of testing – which is important," Hayward concluded.

"State and local public health departments are now testing and publicly reporting their cases," a CDC website statement read. "In the event of a discrepancy between CDC cases and cases reported by state and local public health officials, data reported by states should be considered the most up to date."

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U.S. coronavirus death totals, now surpassing 34,617 on Thursday, are still just the "the tip of the iceberg," as many untested for COVID-19 and dying at home are not represented in the data, according to a mortality statistics expert....
pandemic, deaths, data, covid, 19, testing
Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:13 PM
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