Direct and indirect mortality impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, March 1, 2020 to January 1, 2022

Wha Eum Lee, Sang Woo Park, Daniel M. Weinberger, Donald Olson, Lone Simonsen, Bryan T. Grenfell, Cécile Viboud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Excess mortality studies provide crucial information regarding the health burden of pandemics and other large-scale events. Here, we use time series approaches to separate the direct contribution of SARS-CoV-2 infection on mortality from the indirect consequences of the pandemic in the United States. We estimate excess deaths occurring above a seasonal baseline from March 1, 2020 to January 1, 2022, stratified by week, state, age, and underlying mortality condition (including COVID-19 and respiratory diseases; Alzheimer’s disease; cancer; cerebrovascular diseases; diabetes; heart diseases; and external causes, which include suicides, opioid overdoses, and accidents). Over the study period, we estimate an excess of 1,065,200 (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 909,800– 1,218,000) all-cause deaths, of which 80% are reflected in official COVID-19 statistics. State-specific excess death estimates are highly correlated with SARS-CoV-2 serology, lending support to our approach. Mortality from 7 of the 8 studied conditions rose during the pandemic, with the exception of cancer. To separate the direct mortality consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection from the indirect effects of the pandemic, we fit generalized additive models (GAM) to age-state-and cause-specific weekly excess mortality, using covariates representing direct (COVID-19 intensity) and indirect pandemic effects (hospital intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy and measures of interventions strin-gency). We find that 84% (95% CI 65–94%) of all-cause excess mortality can be statistically attributed to the direct impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also estimate a large direct contribution of SARS-CoV-2 infection (≥67%) on mortality from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart diseases, and in all-cause mortality among individuals over 65 years. In contrast, indirect effects predominate in mortality from external causes and all-cause mortality among individuals under 44 years, with periods of stricter interventions associated with greater rises in mortality. Overall, on a national scale, the largest consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are attributable to the direct impact of SARS-CoV-2 infections; yet, the secondary impacts dominate among younger age groups and in mortality from external causes. Further research on the drivers of indirect mortality is warranted as more detailed mortality data from this pandemic becomes available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere77562
StatePublished - Feb 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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