This report looks at the staggering and disproportionate nature of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States, which now ranks first in the world in the total number of fatalities, to estimate how many deaths were “avoidable.” With more than 217,0001, lives lost, and a proportional mortality rate twice that of neighboring Canada and more than fifty times that of Japan -- a country with a much older population than the U.S. – the United States has turned a global crisis into a devastating tragedy.
Through comparative analysis and applying proportional mortality rates, we estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership. Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.
The inability of the U.S. to mitigate the pandemic is especially stark when contrasted with the response of high income nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and Canada, as well as low- and middle-income countries as varied as Thailand, Pakistan, Honduras, and Malaysia. All of these nations have had greater success in protecting their populations from the impact of the coronavirus.
Given the United States’ unique social and political realities, we recognize that it might have been particularly challenging to implement the same caliber of response as South Korea and Japan, both of which maintain centralized unitary governments. Nonetheless, the range of “avoidable deaths” outlined above stems from data illustrating how some of the best performing nations have achieved much greater results in protecting their populations.