Covid deaths declined again last year as the US continues to emerge from the pandemic.
Figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University suggest 267,000 people died from Covid in 2022, down 44 percent from 475,000 in 2021 and 26 percent from 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
Experts today heralded the figures as a ‘promising sign’, crediting the downturn to the buildup of immunity from vaccines and previous infections. They added that the current tally includes many people who have died with Covid, rather than from the disease.
It comes amid a slight uptick in Covid deaths, with around 550 Americans dying to the virus currently.
The above graph shows Covid deaths by year since the pandemic began. Fatalities fell 44 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year, early data suggests
Hopkins’ figures on Covid deaths are compiled from official death tallies reported by states and county health authorities.
But the count is incomplete because it can take months to determine the cause of death and attribute it to Covid in some cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly updates indicate 241,000 deaths involving Covid in 2022.
However, it will take months before the health agency carries out a thorough analysis and comes to a final figure.
The above graph shows weekly Covid cases recorded in the US. They fell by 13 percent in the latest week that data is available for compared to the previous seven-day spell
The above graph shows the number of Covid tests being completed per day. Figures are now at their lowest levels since the pandemic began
Above is hospitalizations with Covid in the US. Like cases figures, these are also trending downwards, dropping by about 12 percent in a week
Dr Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told DailyMail.com that the drop in Covid deaths last year was ‘promising’.
He said: ‘This, indeed, is a promising sign. However, changes in levels of testing and changes in definitions of Covid deaths over the period make precise quantitative comparisons difficult.’
Some physicians speculate that Covid deaths figures in the US could be inflated.
They believe that some deaths being added to the national ledger are people who died from another cause while positive for the virus.
Dr Robin Dretler, a physician at Emory Decatur Hospital, explained to the Washington Post that a US death certificate has one primary cause of death listed – along with 20 secondary causes that contributed a lesser role.
Covid will often appear as a secondary cause in someone who died from a different condition while carrying the virus.
Because of the decentralized nature of Covid data reporting in America, it is impossible to tell which individual counties are separating deaths where the virus is a secondary cause from those where it was the primary cause.
Like how hospitalization data in much of America is inflated because of this lack of nuance in counting, Dr Dretler fears the same is happening with death figures.
‘Since every patient gets tested for Covid, many are incidentally positive,’ he explained.
‘People who have very low white blood cell counts from chemotherapy might be admitted because of bacterial pneumonia or foot gangrene.
‘They may also have Covid, but Covid is not the main reason why they’re so sick.’
The CDC weekly death report includes a section for ‘all fatalities involving Covid’.
But it does not have a column for deaths where Covid was the underlying cause.
While US officials do not publish data differentiating between deaths where Covid was a primary or secondary cause – the UK could provide some insight.
The country’s Office for National Statistics — which tracks deaths in the country — says that for November 2022, the latest date available, over a third of Covid deaths were primarily caused by a different factor.
The above graph shows the proportion of deaths involving Covid but not due to the pandemic virus (blue bar) in England and Wales, and the number which were due to Covid (red bar)
According to the CDC, about 59,200 Covid daily cases are being detected in the US, down 13 percent from the previous seven-day spell.
This figure may not reflect the nation’s actual Covid situation because the number of Covid tests being completed daily is now at its lowest since the pandemic began.
Covid hospitalizations across the country are also trending downwards, with an average of 5,783 people admitted while positive for the virus daily.
This was 12 percent from the 6,579 a week earlier — and just over a quarter of the peak admissions recorded in January last year.
Covid deaths have trended upwards, with 3,709 recorded over the week of January 11.
But this is still shy of the 3,947 fatalities per week recorded in late August and far below the 13,144 every seven days from the week to January 12 last year.