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What’s the real COVID-19 pandemic death toll? ‘JAMA’ says it’s higher than you think

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and Yale University found troubling data in the death statistics.

What’s the real COVID-19 pandemic death toll? ‘JAMA’ says it’s higher than you think
New Yorkers hold a memorial, “March for the Dead,” to mark 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States under the Trump administration on September 20, 2020 in midtown Manhattan, New York City. [Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images]

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicates that deaths from the coronavirus pandemic are a third higher than reported.

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Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and Yale University found that death rates are up 20% this year, but only two-thirds of the spike is attributable to COVID-19. The additional third likely comes from disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“These include people with acute emergencies, chronic diseases like diabetes that were not properly cared for, or emotional crises that led to overdoses or suicides,” says lead author Steven Woolf, a professor of family medicine at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

The study paints a bleak outlook, as preventable early deaths are likely to increase from such causes as delayed mammograms and colonoscopies, untreated mental health issues, and disrupted treatments such as chemotherapy. The study also found spring and summer surges in deaths from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.

The same team previously published a JAMA article looking at spring data. Woolf emphasizes that death is not the only measure of the pandemic’s destruction.

“Many will live with lifelong chronic disease complications,” he wrote. “Imagine someone who developed the warning signs of a stroke but was scared to call 9-1-1 for fear of getting the virus. That person may end up with a stroke that leaves them with permanent neurological deficits for the rest of their life.”

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