Virginia: 4,500 “Excess” Deaths This Year, Only Half from COVID-19

by James A. Bacon

It’s good to see that the left-leaning Virginia Mercury making the same observation as Bacon’s Rebellion about the unmeasured consequences of society’s reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic. Research from Virginia Commonwealth University shows than an additional 4,500 Virginians died between March and August over the number that would have been predicted from past years’ experience.

That’s an increase of 16 percent, according to Dr. Steven Woolf, the lead author on the paper and director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health. But only 52 percent of those excess deaths in Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic were attributed to the virus itself as either the underlying cause or a contributing factor. …

Woolf said the most recent analysis — which builds on an earlier paper looking at excess deaths across the country in March and April — bolsters concerns that the pandemic is also causing a wave of secondary deaths due to ongoing disruptions in everyday life.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease are up. Child vaccination rates are down. Fewer people are going to the emergency room. Opioid deaths are up.

Said Woolf: ““Various hospitals and clinicians are reporting delays in patients coming in for chronic illnesses. People were slow to respond to acute emergencies because they were scared of the virus. And conversely, there were increased admissions for drug overdoses.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The lesson is simple but cannot be repeated often enough. We cannot let an exclusive focus on COVID-19 “confirmed cases” or even “deaths” drive public policy. We must consider the downstream effects of the shutdown on public health and economic health.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that there is a strong link between the severity of economic lockdowns and lost economy activity. Southern states that opened their economies earlier than other states have have experienced significantly lower unemployment rates than states that stuck with longer, harsher lockdowns.

Social scientists have demonstrated a strong link between unemployment and public health and mental health. The adverse consequences of lockdowns are diffused, delayed and hard to measure, but they are very real.

Woolf told the Virginia Mercury that Virginia’s approach — lifting restrictions gradually — has been fairly successful at limiting the number of COVID-19 and excess deaths. But the article did not discuss the impact of shutdowns on Virginia’s economy, schools, or longer-term public health. We need to take an approach that is rational, fact-based and, often lost in the discussion, wholistic.