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VERIFY: Comparing total deaths from 2020 to 2019 and 2018

Comparing the number of deaths from all causes provides insight into the level of impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TYLER, Texas — The CBS19 VERIFY team is always looking at the latest claims to let you know what you can believe.

One question keeps coming up because it gets to the heart of the coronavirus pandemic: how does the number of deaths from all causes in 2020 compare to 2019 and 2018?

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, more than 280,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. That is as many as the combined populations of Smith County and Cherokee County. But some people dispute whether those deaths were caused by COVID-19, or if those people might have died anyway, but happened to have it. Since the elderly and people with coexisting medical conditions are most likely to suffer severe symptoms from COVID-19 or die, viewers who ask the question often wonder if the deceased’s age or health was more to blame than the coronavirus.

If the numbers of total deaths from 2020, 2019, and 2018 are similar, that would mean COVID-19 has not had as much of an impact as many scientists and politicians claim. If the number for 2020 is significantly higher, the difference would largely be explained by the coronavirus.

Our source for this information is the Centers for Disease Control. In its weekly flu report, it includes a dataset that lists the number of deaths from all causes each week going back more than seven years.

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Data is provided through the 48th week of 2020. So far this year, the CDC reports that 2,877,601 people have died. At the same point in 2018, the number was 2,606,928, and in 2019, it was 2,614,950. The number of deaths to this point in 2020 is at least 260,000 greater than either of the past two years. But that number is an underestimate because the CDC publishes data based on the number of death certificates it has received. Since it can take a couple of weeks for all death certificates to be recorded, the numbers for the last two weeks, at least, will increase as time goes by. If the last two weeks produce a similar number of deaths as the weeks before, the margin to this point will actually be close to 310,000.

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Another way to see the effect of COVID-19 is that more people have died already this year than did in the entirety of either 2018 or 2019. There were 2,831,836 deaths in all of 2018 and 2,845,793 in all of 2019.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States has increased by .48-.73 percent over the last five years. The increase in deaths to this point in 2020 is 10%, far outpacing population growth.

Therefore, we can verify that the number of deaths from all causes is up in 2020 compared to years past. 

If you have something you would like CBS19 to verify, send an email to dlippman@cbs19.tv.

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