Health and Science

CDC finds New York City coronavirus death toll may be much worse than official tally

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Key Points
  • U.S. health officials have identified 5,000 fatalities in New York City that may have been caused by Covid-19 but weren't counted as part of the official coronavirus death toll, the CDC said Monday.
  • There were an additional 5,293 deaths that weren't previously identified as confirmed or probable coronavirus cases that "might have been directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic," the agency said.
Medical workers wheel a deceased patient on a stretcher behind a privacy screen at the Brooklyn Hospital Center on April 27, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

U.S. health officials have identified 5,000 fatalities in New York City between March and early May that may have been caused by Covid-19 but weren't counted as part of the official coronavirus death toll, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

New York City health officials reported 18,879 total Covid-19 deaths between March 11 and May 2, — 13,831 of which were confirmed by a lab and 5,048 of which were categorized as probable cases based on the patients' symptoms and other factors, according to a new CDC report.

There were an additional 5,293 deaths that weren't previously identified as confirmed or probable coronavirus cases that "might have been directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic," the CDC said.

The number of confirmed or probable Covid-19 deaths might not include deaths among people with the virus "who did not access diagnostic testing, tested falsely negative, or became infected after testing negative, died outside of a health care setting, or for whom Covid-19 was not suspected by a health care provider as a cause of death," the CDC wrote.

In addition, social distancing practices, the demand on hospitals and health-care providers, and public fear related to Covid-19 might lead to delays in seeking or obtaining lifesaving care, the agency said.

New York City is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. Since the city reported its first case on March 1, health officials have confirmed more than 184,000 cases and at least 19,789 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. U.S. health officials have suggested the true number of cases and deaths is likely much higher as some people infected with the virus go undetected.

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Scientists have discovered that the virus attacks much more than the respiratory system, identifying circulatory, digestive and neurological problems tied to the virus. An uptick in strokes and heart attacks among otherwise healthy individuals has also been attributed to Covid-19.

The virus can take anywhere from two weeks to eight weeks from the first onset of symptoms before a patient is sick enough to die, according to the World Health Organization, citing early data from China. The median time from the first sign of symptoms to recovery for mild cases is approximately two weeks and between three and six weeks for patients with severe or critical disease, according to the WHO.

The CDC said excess deaths were determined using mortality data compiled by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and calculated as the difference between the seasonally expected baseline number and the reported number of deaths.

The CDC report was released moments after the WHO warned that several countries that have lifted coronavirus restrictions and reopened businesses have seen jumps in cases.

In the U.S., some states are beginning to reopen businesses despite projections suggesting it will lead to a steady rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths over the next couple of weeks.

Last month, the WHO told countries that they will need to manage around the coronavirus for the foreseeable future as cases level off or decline in some countries while peaking in others and resurging in areas where the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to be under control.

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