By Nat Pernick, M.D.
COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of US death (1), trailing heart disease and cancer (2), based on weekly tallies beginning the week of 30Mar20 to 4Apr20.
If one considers excess deaths, COVID-19 has a higher ranking. Excess deaths include COVID-19 deaths that were not correctly diagnosed and reported as well as deaths from other causes that are attributable to the overall crisis conditions (3). It is considered a more comprehensive measure of the total impact of the pandemic on deaths than the confirmed COVID-19 death count. For the period between 1Mar20 and 16Aug20, there were 260,000 excess US deaths, compared to 169,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Annualized, this is about 690,000 excess deaths.
COVID-19 is also among the leading causes of preventable US deaths. Tobacco has traditionally been the leader, followed closely by excess weight (obesity). Tobacco causes 443,000 US deaths each year, due primarily to cancer and heart disease (4). In a 2013 study, overweight and obesity caused 18.2% of US black and white adult deaths between 1986 and 2006 (5), or 441,580 deaths in 2006, based on 2,426,264 total deaths. Prior studies provided estimates of 280,000 to 325,000 obesity related deaths in 1991 (6) and 186,000 deaths in 2011 (7).
These COVID-19 preventable deaths are due to federal policy which seems easy to change with different leadership. Two major publications took the unprecedented step of endorsing a Presidential candidate due to their strong disagreements with current policy. Scientific American made an endorsement because of the President's "dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic" (8). The New England Journal of Medicine's editorial board wrote that "When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs" (9).