Study shows non-COVID excess deaths have spiked since 2020

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 

According to a new study, the United States has suffered an increase in in excess deaths since the start of 2020 that could not be directly attributed to COVID-19. These new numbers raise questions about how COVID-19 deaths were reported and if they were reported accurately at all.

The team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University found that between March 2020 and February 2022, there were between 996,869 and 1,278,540 excess deaths in the U.S., which included deaths caused by cancer, heart disease, drug overdoses, and firearm deaths.

According to the American Cancer Society, deaths were decreasing pre-pandemic. However, a CDC report found that by 2021, the annual number of cancer deaths had increased by 4.7%. According to the CDC, this indicates “an excess number of persons with cancer died from COVID-19 and other diseases.”

The report, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, also suggests that “the number of cancer deaths that were due to noncancer underlying conditions was highest during winter months in 2021 and 2022, which correspond to peaks in COVID-19 infection.”

However, some estimate that cancer screenings were down by almost 75% due to hospitals and other medical facilities focusing on COVID infections, resulting in more deaths due to reduced access to diagnostics and treatment.

More evidence is beginning to suggest that lockdowns were harmful, resulting in an increase of non-COVID deaths directly linked to pandemic mitigation strategies, which prevented many from seeking out routine health care or elective procedures and caused worsening health issues for many Americans.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America and continued to kill more people during the pandemic than COVID-19. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), this number was steadily declining pre-pandemic. However, the numbers rose during the pandemic. Experts estimate that this increase results in about “5 years of lost progress among all adults and about 10 years of lost progress among black adults and younger adults.”

Rebecca C. Woodruff, Ph.D., M.P.H., an epidemiologist at the CDC said that the agency “expected to see an increase in heart disease death rates among adults. However, the magnitude of the increase was striking.”

In 2020 heart disease deaths increased by 4.1%. When broken down by age range, deaths in adults aged 35 to 54 years old increased by 12% and increased by 7.8% for those aged 55 to 74 years old.

Cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases can impair the immune system, putting people at greater risk for illness.


During the pandemic, there was also a surge in overdose and alcohol-related deaths. Many people did not have access to mental health or rehabilitative care, and lockdowns and quarantines took their toll on people’s minds and spirits.

Between 2018 and 2019, overdose deaths increased by almost 5% and have quadrupled since 1999. In that same time period, opioid-involved deaths increased by 6%, though prescription opioid deaths decreased by about 7%. According to CDC data, in 2019 there were over 70,000 deaths from overdoses in the United States, with 70% being from opioids. Since 1999, there have been over 800,000 deaths from drug overdose and in 2020 there was a 30% increase in drug overdose deaths.

Alcohol-related deaths also increased during the pandemic, with some research reporting a 25% increase in deaths where alcohol was an underlying or contributing cause of death. In 2020, the number of alcohol-related deaths was more than 99,000, an increase of more than 20,000 deaths from the previous year. The numbers increased across all groups, gender, race, and ethnicity, although researchers saw a 40% increase, the largest jump, in individuals aged 35-44 years old.


The American Medical Association (AMA) reported that 52% of patients who needed to be seen by a healthcare professional reported skipping appointments. According to one survey, 58% of patients avoided a scheduled preventative care appointment, 15% missed one or more doses of prescription medication, 60% of patients missed a scheduled surgical procedure, and 51% of patients with severe mental or physical health condition that was diagnosed after the pandemic avoided care.