U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Staying Below Six Figures is 'Optimistic,' Warns Nate Silver as Over 60,000 Americans Dead

The U.S. has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world, with more than double the number of fatalities in Italy, the U.K. and Spain, which each have reported around 24,000 to 27,000 deaths. The U.S. is nearly 40,000 deaths short of a six-figure death toll, with around 61,000 fatalities, as of Thursday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

However, with some states now starting to account for casualties potentially missed in previous counts, such as probable deaths from COVID-19 infection, the death count is likely to soar. So the hope of the U.S. death toll remaining at five figures is merely "optimistic," warns American statistician Nate Silver.

"Between the *current* wave of COVID-19 remaining bad in many states, the possibility of either a long plateau or a second wave, and states going back and counting deaths they missed originally, any projections that have 5-figure death tallies for the US this year seem optimistic," Silver noted in a post Wednesday on his Twitter account.

"Some of this may be states going back and counting deaths that they missed originally. But still, since a lot of deaths *were* missed, you can expect to see more days like this where states try to catch up to the *true* number of fatalities," he added.

As of Thursday, less than two percent (1.8 percent) of the American population of nearly 330 million has been tested for the virus. So the latest death toll may only be a small fraction of the actual fatalities in the country.

Earlier this month, various metropolitan areas across the country reportedly saw a spike in deaths at home that may have been from COVID-19 infection. These casualties have been unaccounted for due to lack of testing before their deaths.

Speaking to Newsweek, Mark Hayward, an expert on mortality statistics who is a member of a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory council on vital statistics, said earlier this month: "The biggest challenge in obtaining an accurate tally of COVID-19 deaths is to [be able to] implement widespread testing. Locales that lack testing and where populations are rural, reside in nursing homes, or people live alone are likely to be major contributors to the undercount; note that these are not mutually exclusive categories."

He added: "There are also varying standards (and timing of rollouts) of testing by state. Cause-of death classification schemes have also been evolving and it's not always straightforward in assigning COVID-19 as a cause of death. I think the biggest barrier, though, is the lack of testing."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the states with the most COVID-19 cases across the U.S.

U.S. states with most COVID-19 cases.
U.S. states with most COVID-19 cases. Statista

Earlier this month, the CDC attempted to address the issue of unreported cases, releasing new guidelines for counting deaths and cases which state: "As of April 14, 2020, CDC case counts and death counts include both confirmed and probable cases and deaths."

The CDC explains: "A confirmed case or death is defined by meeting confirmatory laboratory evidence for COVID-19. A probable case or death is defined by one of the following:

  • Meeting clinical criteria AND epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19
  • Meeting presumptive laboratory evidence AND either clinical criteria OR epidemiologic evidence
  • Meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID19"

The U.S. daily death toll recently saw a slight decline from April 21 to 24, before seeing a sharp rise from 1,384 on April 27 to 2,470 new deaths on April 28. The number of daily new cases has also been rising again since April 26, while the number of active cases (patients in hospital or recovering at home) has been rising since late March, according to figures from state health departments.

A general view of the Wellwood Cemetery on March 26, 2020 in West Babylon, New York
A general view of the Wellwood Cemetery on March 26, 2020 in West Babylon, New York. Getty Images

New York has the highest death toll in the country by a large margin, with over 24,400 deaths, followed by its neighbor, New Jersey, which has seen over 6,700 fatalities, as of Thursday.

The novel coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 3.2 million people, including more than a million in the U.S. Over 227,900 have died, while more than 984,100 have recovered.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the U.S.

Spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.
Spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. Statista

Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.