There has been much debate about the actual severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On July 1st, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in which the statistics for all causes of death in every state in the U.S. were compared to deaths attributed to COVID-19 (March – May 2020). The study’s authors reviewed statistics for previous years for all causes of death, and factored in changes in influenza prevalence, other seasonal factors, delays in reporting COVID-19 numbers, etc. They found some significant gaps between the death rates that could be expected for that time of year and the actual total number of deaths due to all causes.


These gaps were variable by state, and the differences were more pronounced: 

  • In areas where the epidemic was hitting particularly hard;
  • When diagnostic tests for COVID-19 were less available; and
  • When there was a more narrow understanding of COVID-19 symptoms.

Similarly, Statistics Canada (StatsCan) reported in mid-June that analysis of all causes of death across Canada (from Jan 1st to May 2nd) was higher than the previous 5 years, and that the reported cases of COVID-19-related deaths did not fully account for this increase. Provinces with little COVID-19 infection had comparable all-causes death rates as previous years, but provinces that did have significant numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases (British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec) did have higher rates of all causes of death, disproportionately affecting those 85 years old and older, and these rates were not fully explained by the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases. (Notably, information for Ontario was not available for analysis at the time of the study.)

The StatsCan report cautions (reasonably so) that there could be reasons other than the SARS-CoV-2 virus for the increase in all-cause deaths, and that the secondary effects of the pandemic (such as untreated heart attacks, as suggested by the CBC) may also play a factor. 

The Economist has also been updating an online report of excess numbers of deaths around the world, and the countries/regions with most notable increases are those known for being hit badly by the novel coronavirus.

Honest and critical analysis of COVID-19 risks and which precautions are necessary and in what circumstances they might be adjusted are vital conversations to have, both to slow the spread of the pandemic as well as to mitigate the negative effects of these public safety measures. But any such conversation must start with a reasonable assessment of the scope of the problem. While shutdowns were widespread across the globe when the WHO first declared COVID-19 a pandemic, not all regions experienced similar increases in all causes of death. The regions that show the most dramatic increase of all causes of death are those with high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The studies summarized in this post provide additional confirmation of the severity of this pandemic.

COVID-19 is not a hoax, nor has it been overblown by the media. Adopting behaviors to limit its spread will result in more rapid economic recovery, fewer lives lost, protection of the frontline health care workforce and other essential workers, and will allow for the return of schooling and a more normal social environment.

(Featured photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash)


Cindy Beernink, ND, M.Ed. lives and works in Toronto, ON. She is a founding member of the Naturopathic Alliance.