COVID Will Kill as Many Americans in 9 Months as the Flu Has in 9 Years

Researchers predict about 300,000 deaths by December 1. Here's how that compares to the flu.

Given the ongoing surge of COVID-19 across the nation, it's likely no surprise that the coronavirus is claiming more lives than experts initially estimated. The latest projections from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center, show that the COVID-related death toll will reach nearly 300,000 by December 1. The IMHE's COVID projections are used as a reliable resource for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as well as a vast number of reputable media outlets. And their latest numbers show just how much damage COVID-19 is expected to do, especially when you compare it to the flu.

With each passing week, the IMHE's forecast has looked more and more bleak. In late July, the IHME updated its projected coronavirus fatalities from 219,000 to 234,000 by November 1. This week, the expected coronavirus-related fatality projections shot up again to 295,011 deaths by December 1.

The primary reason for the uptick? People not universally following the safety measures designed to limit transmission of the virus, like wearing masks and social distancing, according to IHME. "It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while, as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others," IMHE Director Chris Murray said in a statement. That lax behavior in turn, he says, "leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again."

He added: "The public's behavior had a direct correlation to the transmission of the virus and, in turn, the numbers of deaths."

people cheering with beer in bar with illness prevention protection measures are taken

One common refrain that's come up amid this pandemic is how COVID-19 deaths compare to those caused by the flu. Looking at the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on flu-related deaths, the seasonal affliction has caused 300,157 deaths between the 2011-2012 season and the 2018-2019 season. That's 12,000 in 2011-2012; 43,000 in 2012-2013; 38,000 in 2013-2014; 51,000 in 2014-2015; 23,000 in 2015-2016, 38,000 in 2016-2017; 61,000 in 2017-2018; and 34,157 in 2018-2019. (The CDC notes that "estimates from the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons are preliminary and may change as data are finalized.")

Considering the novel coronavirus first started to wreak havoc in the U.S. in March, it appears it will take just nine months—March through November—for COVID-19 to claim as many American lives as the flu has in nine years. 

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And the truth is, these COVID-19 numbers could get even worse, the IMHE notes. Their new projections are based on the assumption that current mandates designed to slow the spread of the virus will stay in effect until December 1. But the projected total deaths will rise significantly to over 384,000 fatalities if these mandates are eased.

However, if universal mask-wearing is instituted across the nation, then the projected fatalities fall to roughly 227,000 deaths by December 1. And for more on the future of COVID-19 in certain states, check out Here's When Your State Will Have to Shut Down Again, New Research Shows.

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