Measuring the Death Toll from Non-Covid Causes
Very few, if any, public policies of recent times have been more consequential and controversial than the near-unprecedented decision by governments in the U.S. – and around the world – to respond to the Covid pandemic by locking down businesses, stores, and schools and quarantining citizens through curfews, stay-at-home orders and outlawing social gatherings. And yet, to this day, one topic that has garnered shockingly little attention is the collateral damage during the pandemic, whether in non-Covid excess deaths, or lasting damage from lost school time for our children, or lasting loss of economic opportunity from lost jobs or work-from-home can morph into not working at all.
This study focuses on the first of these, examined historical data on death patterns by age category as reported in the nation’s death certificates compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our findings are summarized as follows.
- “Non-Covid excess deaths” (above normal historical rates) totaled nearly 100,000 a year in 2020 and 2021. Our initial analysis of incomplete data on 2022 is that roughly another 100,000 Americans above pre-pandemic trends, over and above Covid’s toll in 2022. This means that in the wake of Covid lockdowns, over 250,000 more Americans than the pre-Covid norms, have died with non-Covid causes of death.
- Deaths among young adults – in the age group from 18-44 – were elevated 27 percent above historical trends, more than any other age group, far above the 18 percent jump in deaths among senior citizens. Unlike senior citizens, most of the excess deaths among young adults were from non-Covid causes, rather than from Covid. We estimate this number at 29,000 per year for 2020 and 2021, with this elevated mortality rate continuing at a similar rate into 2022.
- Deaths from Non-Covid causes, in rank order of importance, were found in these categories: heart and lung disease, diabetes/obesity, drug and alcohol, homicide, and traffic accidents.
- These are losses have financial implications, too. If we value a human life at $10 million each (as government cost-benefit analyses often do), the excess deaths can be understood as a cost of over $2.5 trillion through the end of 2022. Human capital costs will continue to mount each year, as long additional non-Covid excess deaths occur, and as the longer-term effect of school closings diminish the career opportunities and lifetime earnings potential of our children.