The Slatest

Lancet Study Finds 40 Percent of U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Could Have Been Avoided

Trump’s to blame for the U.S. response to the coronavirus, but not for the decline in American health outcomes.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The British medical journal the Lancet, on Wednesday, published a damning assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency and its impact on Americans’ health, concluding that 40 percent of the nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. over the past year were avoidable. The journal came to the conclusion by comparing the U.S. health outcomes on the coronavirus—the country leads the world in COVID deaths and confirmed cases with more than 27 million—with the weighted average of other G-7 nations. So it’s not a wildly abstract conclusion to draw: the U.S. could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives if it had just performed similarly to its economic peers.

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The report assailed Trump for his response to the pandemic, but emphasized that the disastrous response to the virus’s spread was the result of years of destructive public policy decisions on health that extended well beyond the Trump years. From the Lancet:

Many of the cases and deaths were avoidable. Instead of galvanizing the U.S. populace to fight the pandemic, President Trump publicly dismissed its threat (despite privately acknowledging it), discouraged action as infection spread, and eschewed international cooperation. His refusal to develop a national strategy worsened shortages of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests. President Trump politicized mask-wearing and school reopenings and convened indoor events attended by thousands, where masks were discouraged and physical distancing was impossible.

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The result, the Lancet notes, is more than 450,000 deaths where “about 40 percent of which could have been averted had the U.S. death rate mirrored the weighted average of the other G7 nations.” But the trajectory of the U.S. falling behind G-7 nations in life expectancy is nothing new, and the gap has grown over the past decade even before the coronavirus exacerbated existing deficiencies in the U.S. health system. The number of excess deaths in the U.S. when compared to similar countries in the G-7 already stood at more than 450,000 in 2018 alone—a number that has been climbing for decades. Most of those unnecessary deaths in the U.S. are in people under the age 65, such that, “if U.S. death rates were equivalent to those of other G7 nations, two of five deaths before age 65 years would have been averted,” the Lancet notes. “To put this number in context, the number of missing Americans each year is more than the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the USA in all of 2020.”


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