New York City's coronavirus death toll passed 20,000 on Monday and a new study by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) indicates the true total could be many thousands higher.
The study, released by and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzes mortality data from the past five years. There were 32,172 deaths from March 11 to May 2 — 24,172 more than generally in that time period each year.
Of those, the study determined that around 18,000 of the deaths this year were either confirmed or likely COVID-19 deaths. (Since May 2, the death toll has continued to grow.)
The report also says, however, that "counting only confirmed or probable COVID-19–associated deaths [likely] underestimates the number of deaths attributable to the pandemic."
For March 11 through May 2, the report counts nearly 5,300 extra deaths that don't fit in either the confirmed or probable coronavirus categories.
"The counting of confirmed and probable COVID-19–associated deaths," says the report, "might not include deaths among persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection who did not access diagnostic testing, tested falsely negative, or became infected after testing negative, died outside of a health care setting, or for whom COVID-19 was not suspected by a health care provider as a cause of death."
There were 5,293 deaths in excess of normal and not identified as COVID-19 laboratory confirmed or probable deaths, 22 percent of all excess deaths.
The study says, "the 5,293 excess deaths not identified as confirmed or probable COVID-19–associated deaths might have been directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic."
The study also hypothesizes that the demand on hospitals and health care providers coupled with fear about the virus might have led to delays in people seeking lifesaving care and resulted in additional deaths.