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VERIFY: Deaths in the U.S. are on pace to rise by about 318,000 in 2020, mirroring nation’s COVID-19 death toll

For the second time in as many months, data analysis shows that claim is false.

INDIANAPOLIS — Messages continue to swirl on social media claiming that the number of deaths in the United States is decreasing, despite a global pandemic. For the second time in as many months, a 13News data analysis shows that claim is false.

WTHR’s VERIFY Team first examined this issue a month ago, finding the number of total deaths in the United States is expected to top 3 million in 2020, which is an increase from the 2,845,793 deaths recorded in 2019.

Since then, online claims have only intensified and circulated more widely, prompting more questions to the 13News VERIFY Team.

“Many people are posting on Facebook that COVID-19 isn't as big of a deal as we are making it because our overall death rate in the U.S. has not increased,” wrote 13News viewer Laura McNeil. “Is this true about the death rate?”

Credit: WTHR / Jon Miller
This misleading post is one of many on social media, falsely claiming deaths in the U.S. are holding steady or declining in 2020.

Because the claim is not going away, VERIFY is revisiting this topic and calculating the numbers again. The result is the same.

The nation’s most accurate mortality data comes from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which closely tracks all deaths in the U.S. According to the government agency, there have been 2,748,341 deaths in the Unites States through November 14. With a few weeks left in this year, that’s on track to be slightly lower than the 2,845,793 million deaths the U.S. recorded in 2019.

But there’s an important catch: the total deaths the CDC has listed for the past few weeks are extremely low. In fact, last week’s numbers aren’t even recorded yet in the data. And there is a perfectly logical explanation.

Along with its weekly death data, the CDC explains “death counts are delayed” because the government relies on official death certificate data that must be received and coded by federal workers. That takes anywhere from one to eight weeks, according to NCHS.

Credit: WTHR
NOTE: The previous three weeks of death data is incomplete.

Rather than basing our calculations on incomplete data that would underestimate the number of actual deaths, 13News dug deeper and analyzed the CDC’s raw death numbers. That allows us to calculate this year’s death rate based only on the more reliable and complete weeks of data. Using those numbers and the death rate through Thanksgiving week, the calculation reveals the U.S. is on pace to reach 3,163,896 deaths this year compared to 2,845,793 deaths in 2019. That’s roughly 318,000 more deaths or an 11% increase.

The current number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States just topped 300,000, suggesting there is likely a direct correlation between the number of additional U.S. deaths in 2020 and the number of people who have died from complications linked to coronavirus.)

We’ve included a link to the raw data so you can examine it yourself.

So 13News can again verify those online reports claiming that the number of deaths in the U.S. is going down in 2020 despite the pandemic are FALSE. This year’s total death rate in the U.S. is going up rather significantly and at a rate consistent with the number of people whose deaths are related to COVID-19.

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