U.S. surpasses 1 million COVID-19 deaths: A look at the numbers

·5 min read
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are joined by members of the U.S. House on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday to honour the one million Americans who have died due to COVID-19. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press - image credit)
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are joined by members of the U.S. House on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday to honour the one million Americans who have died due to COVID-19. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press - image credit)

Reported COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have surpassed one million, according to tallies compiled from Reuters and NBC News.

Numbers from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vary slightly, but have the country poised to hit one million coronavirus deaths any day now.

President Joe Biden marked the solemn milestone with a statement on Thursday, expressing condolences to those in mourning.

"One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic," said Biden.

Just over two years into the pandemic, the U.S. has the highest official total of COVID-19 deaths in the world, although modelling on excess deaths published by both the World Health Organization and in medical journals and other publications has indicated other countries may have suffered greater levels of mortality but don't have as robust reporting mechanisms as the Americans.

The U.S. has experienced 302.93 deaths for every 100,000 people, per Johns Hopkins, a rate significantly higher than in Canada, with 104.30 deaths for every 100,000 people. Nearly 39,000 people have died in Canada.

Both the U.S. and Canada have seen a notable drop in life expectancy due to the pandemic.

But big differences between the countries can be seen in most age cohorts.

COVID-19 mortality in working-age population

While the two countries don't break down demographic and age data in exactly the same way, some comparisons are informative.

Of the one million U.S. deaths, 75 per cent have occurred in people 65 and over, per the Centers for Disease Control. In Canada, 92.7 per cent of the deaths tracked by Health Canada have occurred in people 60 and over.

Leah Millis/Reuters
Leah Millis/Reuters

The difference in the most senior cohort is significant. Some 60.5 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been among people 80 and over, while Americans 85 and over account for 26 per cent of the U.S. COVID-19 death total. But given the U.S. population of 329 million, that overall number is still massive, representing more than 224,000 people.

As one moves through the younger age cohorts — particularly middle age and the working-age population — the differences are even more jarring.

Both countries break down COVID-19 mortality in the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians aged 40-49 make up 12.8 per cent of the population and 1.6 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths. A similar percentage of the U.S. population is that age — 12.3 per cent — but the cohort accounts for 4.4 per cent of known COVID-19 deaths.

WATCH | Excess death modelling from WHO suggest real rate of death substantially higher:

Just over 14 per cent of Canada's population is 30-39, a cohort that has experienced 0.7 of all COVID-19 deaths. The age cohort represents a comparable 13.5 per cent of all Americans, but 1.8 of all coronavirus deaths there.

A difference of one per cent may not sound like a lot, but the numbers are distinct. Canada, with roughly one-ninth of the U.S. population, has lost 285 people aged 30-39 to COVID-19, while the U.S. has lost more than 15,000 people in that age range.

Factoring in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, there has arguably been a greater variation in American efforts to combat the virus compared to Canada, with its smaller number of provinces and territories.

But generally speaking, the U.S. has had lower vaccination rates, fewer long-lasting public-health restrictions on mobility and commerce and more vociferous opposition and resistance to both vaccines and mitigation efforts like masking.

The U.S. also ranks higher on a per capita basis in rates of obesity and diabetes, which can be COVID-19 comorbidities.

Children experience loss

Where the pandemic has perhaps resonated the most is in the experience for tens of thousands of American kids.

According to tracking by the COVID Collaborative, an effort from a team of leading experts in health, education and economics, an estimated 203,649 American children under 18 have lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19.

J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press
J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

This impact has not been equally shared across demographics, according to COVID Collaborative.

Indigenous American children have lost caregivers at rates about 3½ times that of white children, while Black and Hispanic children have lost caregivers at nearly twice the rate of white children.

By the numbers

Organizations and professional associations have tracked the loss in some occupational categories, societal groups and geographic data. Here are some of those figures:

  • 90,882 deaths in California, the highest number of any state. (It's also the most populous state. On a death per capita basis, California is tied for 19th out of 50.)

  • 296 virus-related deaths of pregnant people, per the CDC.

Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters
Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

What's next for the U.S.

Despite the fact that the U.S. has reached this grim milestone, the rate of death is slowing. The Omicron variant hit the U.S. significantly — the country climbed from 800,000 deaths to 900,000 in about 51 days, one of the shortest intervals of 100,000 deaths in the entire pandemic.

This latest interval started around early February, a time period of about 97 days, as of May 12.

There is concern among public health officials about the country's booster rate — 47.8 per cent of Americans over 12 are considered fully vaccinated plus one shot, about seven percentage points behind Canada's pace.

But there is hope that the increased use of antivirals such as Paxlovid and vaccine approval for kids under five will add additional layers of protection against serious illness and death for the public at large.

Heather Ainsworth/The Associated Press
Heather Ainsworth/The Associated Press

The country also has high levels of acquired immunity, which can sometimes confer a degree of protection. The CDC released a study last month estimating that 58 per cent of the public had incurred a COVID-19 infection at some point, with some three-quarters of younger children likely to have contracted COVID in the past two-plus years.

In his statement Thursday, Biden urged Americans to "not grow numb to such sorrow," and his administration is pressing Congress for more funding to detect and treat COVID-19, so that the country won't backslide as the virus evolves.

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