COVID-19 Is Saving Lives

The United States death toll from the novel coronavirus has steadily increased in the last few days, with over 2, 200 COVID- 19 deaths, and more than half of the deaths in the last three days alone.

  • Prasanthi Ramakrishnan, Siddhartha Sanghi, David Schwartzman and Hayley Wabiszewski

The death toll is expected to only get worse in the coming weeks as cases increase and the capacity of the health care system is stretched. However, one silver lining might be that the death toll could be lower than anticipated due to individuals changing their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic. We use CDC data (detailed below) to analyze weekly US deaths over the last five years (as accessed on March 28 , 2020 ). Figure 1 shows weekly deaths for all ages. For the year 2020, we have data through week 10, or through the week of March 7, 2020.

There is a clear strong downward sloping trend in the number of deaths at all ages for the current year as compared to the previous 5 years. Moreover, the current year appears to be a break in trend from the previous 5 years. Comparing the difference of the previous 5 -year average with 2020 deaths through March 7 and we find that for week 10, there were close to 9000 fewer deaths – this is nearly a 20 percent decrease in the number of the deaths! The decrease is most evident after week 7 (week ending February 15 , 2020 ).

Weekly deaths in the US down by 7,000 – 10,000 for the week ending March 7 2020! Silver lining with people changing their behaviors during COVID-19? Raw weekly death numbers taken from @CDCgov: — Siddhartha Sanghi (@SidSanghi) March 29, 2020

Since coronavirus concerns have increased as US spread has become more evident, the decline in deaths in recent weeks suggests that the fall in deaths might be an ‘un-intended’ consequence of the COVID- 19 due to people adjusting their behavior to avoid getting and spreading COVID- 19. Comparing the deviation with the COVID- 19 confirmed cases in the US, we see a high negative correlation of 0.9271. One suggestive mechanism is that as people stay at home more, crime and accidental deaths may decrease. As the CDC continues to update the data, the data for the week ending March 14 and March 21, 2020 will be useful in understanding this behavioral aspect – however, after that, the behavioral effect may be harder to disentangle, as deaths due to coronavirus will become more prominent in the aggregate data.  …


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