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US could have avoided at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths, Columbia University study says

US could have avoided at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths, Columbia University study says
Posted at 9:38 AM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 09:38:47-04

The U.S. continues to lead the world in deaths linked to COVID-19 with more than 222,000 — and some experts believe that figure is much higher. But according to a new study, at least 130,000 of those deaths could have been avoided.

According to a study by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, the U.S. could have avoided between 130,000 and 210,000 COVID-19 deaths had the country adopted mitigation policies similar to those used by other "high-income nations."

It's clear that the U.S. has disproportionately felt the affects of the pandemic — though it has just 4% of the world's population, it accounts for 20% of COVID-19 cases worldwide. The U.S. death toll stands in stark contrast to countries with similar resources, like South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, and France.

To calculate the U.S.'s "avoidable deaths," the study applied the death rates of those countries to the U.S.'s population. Researchers then subtracted that figure from the U.S.'s current death count.

By that calculation, researchers concluded that 130,000 lives could have been saved had the U.S. adopted policies similar to that of Canada's, and that as many as 215,000 lives could have been saved had the country adopted policies similar to South Korea.

In explaining why U.S. deaths are disproportionately high, the Columbia researchers cited four key mistakes:

  • Insufficient testing capacity: Researchers cited issues the U.S. had early on in the pandemic in developing and acquiring tests, while countries like South Korea were prepared almost immediately to test for the virus on a widespread scale.
  • Delayed response: A previous Columbia University study determined that instituting national social distancing measures just one or two weeks earlier would have saved 36,000 of lives.
  • Lack of a national mask mandate: Top health officials recommended against masks early on in the pandemic, fearing that doing so would lead to a shortage. Even today, masks have become politicized in some circles despite evidence showing that wearing one reduces the spread of droplets that can carry the virus.
  • Failure from federal leadership: The Columbia study cited the Trump administration's "hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies," specifically citing the president's attempts to "downplay" the virus.

Read more about the Columbia University study here.