The Slatest

New Study Says U.S. COVID Death Toll Is Actually 900,000, Far Higher Than Reported

People walk by a sign pointing toward a COVID-19 testing center and a COVID-19 vaccination center at a Brooklyn hospital.
The speed and scale of the pandemic made getting an accurate reading of its impact a challenge. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It’s always been near certain that the U.S., along with every other nation, has severely undercounted the number of coronavirus cases and deaths attributed to the virus. The speed and scale of the pandemic made getting an accurate reading of its impact a challenge, but, as of Friday, the numbers in the U.S. currently stand at more than 32 million reported cases resulting in 580,000 deaths. Those numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins are grim, but a new analysis by researchers at the University of Washington puts the death toll in the U.S. far higher, at 905,000 deaths.


The team at the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says the undercount globally is even greater than in the U.S. and that the global death toll is approaching 7 million, more than double the official recorded tally. The researchers found that the number of coronavirus-attributed deaths in a given country is largely dependent on the levels of testing. In most parts of the world, deaths that occur outside a hospital setting don’t get attributed to COVID because they likely were never tested for the virus. The severity of the pandemic has, understandably, meant that health officials have focused their resources on treating patients and saving lives, not surveying the symptoms of the deceased.

The analysis by the University of Washington researchers came to its revised, higher death toll by using the excess mortality from March 2020 through May 3, 2021, and comparing it to a non-pandemic year with a few adjustments. In the U.S., the researchers said just about all of the excess deaths could numerically be attributed to COVID because increases in certain types of pandemic-adjacent deaths, like drug overdoses, were offset by declines in other areas, like flu deaths, which were far lower last year because everyone was at home.