The actual number of coronavirus-related deaths in America could be significantly higher than official figures show, according to new research.
There have been almost 2.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US and more than 129,000 people who have tested positive for the virus have died.
Almost half a million new infections have been reported in the country in the last two weeks alone, and states which had begun to allow bars to reopen such as Texas and California are now closing them again, fearing a second wave of the pandemic.
But a new study by academics in the US suggests the true figure for coronavirus deaths could be 28% higher, based on their analysis of the total number of deaths recorded in the country from 1 March to 30 May.
There were about 781,000 fatalities across the US during those three months – 122,300 more than the historical average for that time of year.
Official tallies reported 95,235 deaths attributed to the virus during this period.
Researchers said most of the rest of the excess deaths – about 27,000 – were likely related to or directly caused by the coronavirus.
According to the official figures, there have been more deaths resulting from the pandemic in the US than in any other country.
Media reports suggest many early nursing home deaths or those attributed to pneumonia rather than COVID-19 may have contributed to an undercount.
“Determining the cause of death on a death certificate is not an exact science,” said Daniel Weinberger, the study’s lead author from the Yale School of Public Health.
“It is possible that someone who had COVID-19 and that triggered pneumonia might have pneumonia listed as the cause of death. Whereas another jurisdiction might have COVID as the cause,” he said.
“The coding for what a person died from can vary a lot from person to person and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”
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The researchers also said: “Efforts to track the severity and public health impact of COVID-19 in the US have been hampered by state-level differences in diagnostic test availability.”
In addition to the differences between states in accessing diagnostic tests, they also had “differing strategies for prioritisation of individuals for testing” and “delays between testing and reporting” also posed challenges for tracking the outbreak.
Their research warns the additional excess deaths might not just be due to the virus going undetected, but potentially by “changes in population behaviour brought about by strict lockdown measures”.
The research was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine and is available here.
On Tuesday, the country’s top infectious diseases expert warned the US could soon see 100,000 new cases of coronavirus every day.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a US Senate committee that the daily surge in cases could more than double if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.
“I am very concerned because it could get very bad,” he said.