VCU study: Pandemic causes increase in non-virus related deaths

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Researchers at VCU have found deaths in the United States have increased 20% but not all of those deaths are a result of COVID-19 complications. The university explains that for everyone two people being killed by the virus, another person “dies as a result of the pandemic.”

The virus has attributed directly to 67% of the increased deaths. In years prior to the pandemic death counts is the U.S. were found to be mostly consistent.

The increase in deaths not directly associated with the virus can be attributed to a number of issues such as opioid overdoses, disruptions in medical care caused by the pandemic and a reluctance to seek treatment for other ailments. There were increased death rates found among dementia and heart disease sufferers. The study suggests these related deaths may contain to rise as the effects of disrupted cancer treatments and delayed mammograms are seen.

Lead author Steven Woolf, M.D., director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health, says the discrepancies could also be associated with delays in reporting COVID-19 deaths or data limitations. He believes it is more likely the deaths can be attributed to related issues.

Another recent VCU study found that opioid overdoses at the VCU Medical Center had surged. With a 123% increase in nonfatal overdoses since the pandemic has started.

“Contrary to skeptics who claim that COVID-19 deaths are fake or that the numbers are much smaller than we hear on the news, our research and many other studies on the same subject show quite the opposite,” said Woolf.

According to Woolf’s study, there is also evidence suggesting the early reopening of states in April and May could have fueled an increase in virus spread during June and July.

“The high death counts in Sun Belt states show us the grave consequences of how some states responded to the pandemic and sound the alarm not to repeat this mistake going forward,” said Woolf.

While the effects of reopening are not fully known yet, Woolf finds it “quite likely” to have contributed to “excess deaths.”

“The enforcement of mask mandates and social distancing is really important if we are to avoid these surges and major loss of life,” Woolf said.

The mortality data currently provided by the CDC is provisional and Woolf expects more reliable data will be released later allowing researchers to be understand the contributions to excess deaths.

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