• Stuart McDonald

Mortality Rates Tell True Tale of Coronavirus’s Effect

Wall Street Journal | Stuart McDonald

In April, Stuart spoke to the Wall Street Journal on excess deaths and the extent to which COVID-19 is killing those who weren't already near the end of life.

Governments are studying overall death totals to determine when they can ease their lockdown measures

Governments considering reopening economies frozen by restrictions to limit the spread of the new coronavirus are struggling to determine how deadly it is. With tests for the virus still in short supply, many analysts are looking to the blunter measure of total deaths.

By comparing mortality statistics for this year with those from the same period in past years, a rough measure of the pandemic’s impact emerges. In parts of the U.S. and Europe that have been hit hard, weekly fatalities from all causes are up by more than 25%, and in some places almost 80%.

How quickly authorities release death statistics varies widely, and only a few countries and localities allow near-real-time analysis. Total-mortality numbers from those places provide a rough indicator that will sharpen as more data are released.

Overall mortality figures are still more exact than tallies of coronavirus cases or deaths and less prone to local variation, say actuaries and epidemiologists. Rates of testing for infection vary widely, even within countries. Many reported deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, aren’t medically confirmed by postmortem testing.

“People have realized that with all the differences in testing, looking at all causes of death is a much better proxy for the impact of Covid,” said Lasse S. Vestergaard, an epidemiologist in Denmark’s national institute for infectious disease and coordinator of the European Mortality Monitoring Project, a 24-country network known as EuroMOMO.