The End of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Closer Look at Excess Deaths


The COVID-19 pandemic is definitively over, according to two recent reports focused on the same metric.

Excess Deaths: A Key Measure

That metric is excess deaths, a measure of the difference between the number of deaths that occurred through the pandemic years and the number that would be expected in a nonpandemic year, based on data from earlier years.

At the peak of the pandemic, U.S. excess deaths were at times more than 40% higher than normal, according to the Human Mortality Database, as shown in the chart below.

A Promising Decline

But in the past few months, that number has fallen so much it’s showing that fewer Americans died in March 2023 than would be expected in a normal year.

A separate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the excess-deaths metric was below 1% in the week through June 17. The reports were first highlighted by the New York Times this week.

COVID-19: Forever Present, but Less Frequent and Severe

None of this means that COVID has gone away, however. The illness is expected to be with us forever, much like seasonal flu, but the efficacy of vaccines and the natural immunity that has been built up through infections have made it much less frequent and severe.

The COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the United States has been making significant progress, with approximately 81.4% of the population having received at least one dose, as reported by the CDC. Although there were 106 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the week leading up to July 8, this accounts for only about 1% of the daily death toll. It is worth noting that some of these reported deaths may include individuals who tested positive for the virus but ultimately succumbed to other causes.

The decline in COVID-19-related deaths has become so pronounced that it has become challenging to accurately track them using official records alone.

As we look beyond the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides us with a global perspective. In the 28-day period leading up to July 16, there were over 836,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 4,500 deaths reported worldwide. These figures offer a stark reminder of the ongoing toll of the pandemic.

It is important to acknowledge that while the WHO declared the public health emergency of international concern over on May 5, the threat posed by COVID-19 still persists. The WHO continues to stress the importance of governments maintaining their established COVID-19 infrastructure rather than dismantling it. This includes sustaining efforts in surveillance and reporting, variant tracking, early clinical care provision, administering vaccine boosters to high-risk groups, improving ventilation systems, and fostering regular communication.

Despite the progress made and the decreasing number of COVID-19 deaths, it is crucial that we remain vigilant and take necessary precautions to ensure our safety and protect those around us.

Let us all continue to do our part in combating the pandemic and support one another through these challenging times.

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