The full toll of the coronavirus pandemic in New York is likely thousands higher than the official death tallies, according to newly released federal data.

The Centers for Disease Control recorded a nationwide spike in weekly deaths from all causes over the past two months that was particularly sharp in New York, an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The surge began in early March, around the time the state discovered its first coronavirus cases, and hit a peak of 10,745 deaths statewide during the week ending April 11. That was about 7,700 or 250 percent more than normal for the time of year.


This is an installment in a special series of #NYCoronavirus chronicles by Empire Center analysts, focused on New York’s state and local policy response to the Coronavirus pandemic.


The state-reported COVID-19 death toll during that week was 5,226, leaving about 2,500 deaths unaccounted for.

Cumulatively, the CDC data show that 39,000 people died in New York between March 8 and April 18. That was more than double the usual number and about 6,300 higher than the state Health Department’s tally of COVID-19 casualties at that point. To put it another way, 21,000 more New Yorkers than usual died over the past two months, which is 0.1% of the state’s population.

mortality-spike-1720721
Source: Centers for Disease Control (click to enlarge)
norm-chart-8624584
*Data is preliminary. Sources: Centers for Disease Control and New York State Health Department (click to enlarge)

 

About three-quarters of the excess deaths occurred in New York City, which is roughly proportionate to its share of coronavirus fatalities as recorded by the state Health Department. A more detailed breakdown for other regions is not possible because neither the CDC nor the state Health Department routinely posts mortality numbers by county.

City officials have maintained their own counts, including a tally of “probable” COVID-19 cases that were not confirmed by testing. As shown in the chart below, even that expanded tally does not account for all of the excess deaths recorded by the CDC.

cumulative-chart-1-1296622
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (click to enlarge)

 

Many of the excess deaths were likely people who had coronavirus infections that went unconfirmed or unrecognized. Other deaths may be indirectly related to the pandemic, such as people who were turned away by overwhelmed emergency rooms, or who were leery of seeking care in the first place.

Whatever the explanation, a similar pattern has been seen across the country.

A final caveat: The CDC warns that its mortality data, which is gathered from state and local governments across the country, “may be incomplete and will likely not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period, especially for the more recent time periods.” In other words, the grim toll is likely to get larger still.

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

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