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New investigation reveals underreported COVID-19 deaths

Some counties in the U.S. failed to report all COVID-19 deaths

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A Christmas tree and presents are pictured on Christmas Eve in a COVID-19 intensive care unit in southern France.

A Christmas tree and presents are pictured on Christmas Eve in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021.

Daniel Cole, Associated Press

Nearly 1 million more people have died in 2020 and 2021 than pre-pandemic levels. About 800,000 deaths have officially been attributed to COVID-19, according to CDC data. But 195,000 deaths remain unidentified, a USA Today investigation finds.

The death certificate of these unidentified deaths lists symptoms that are closely related to COVID-19.

  • “Our death investigation system urgently needs both oversight and standardization of training and procedures,” said Andrew Stokes, a professor in the Department of Global Health at the Boston University School of Public Health, per the report.
  • “It’s hampered our ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and leaves us unprepared for future public health emergencies.”

More deaths have been attributed to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes, creating a 30% increase in deaths related to these diseases compared to the past. It is possible that some of these deaths were actually undiagnosed COVID-19, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • “We don’t have the infrastructure to go and check everybody for COVID,” said Keith Talamo, chief death investigator in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, per the investigation.

The trend of underreporting COVID-19 cases was high in small cities and rural areas with less access to health care. According to the investigation, the trend is especially visible in rural areas of the South and western U.S.

  • Death investigator Wavis Jordan said his office “doesn’t do COVID deaths.” This year, his office hasn’t pronounced a single person dead from COVID-19 in the county populated by 80,000.