Experts have warned that the number of reported fatalities probably underestimates the true toll of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Amid a national debate over how to count the dead, methods have varied widely from state to state. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially included only those who tested positive for the virus, even with strict limitations on testing.
The Washington Post has been analyzing data from state health agencies to track every known death in the country. Of the 50,024 fatalities confirmed as of Friday, 21,283 — or about 42 percent — occurred in New York. But while the state has started to see a decrease in its confirmed daily death counts, other parts of the country are beginning to see a surge.
Even as governors in multiple states eased stay-at-home orders and took other steps to restart their stymied economies, the disease’s rapid spread in urban and rural areas had led to more than 28,000 deaths outside the hot spot of New York. The second-highest death toll was being carried by New Jersey, followed by Michigan, Massachusetts and Illinois.
Every state has recorded fatalities, with clusters of cases appearing in nursing homes, correctional facilities and other settings. Across America, according to Post tracking, there were 873,279 confirmed infections.
The United States grappled with early delays and glitches in testing, and experts have suggested that testing is still not widespread enough to reveal the true extent of the virus’s spread or precisely determine its fatality rate. Preliminary results of a New York study found that nearly 14 percent of 3,000 people who were tested had developed antibodies to fight the virus, signaling that they had previously been infected.
The novel coronavirus emerged in late December as a scattering of mysterious illnesses in Wuhan, China, with symptoms ranging from coughing and fever to cases of pneumonia, kidney failure and fluid buildup in the lungs.
It soon traveled the globe, triggering school closures, lockdowns and unprecedented economic disruption. Worldwide as of Friday, more than 2.7 million people had been sickened with the virus and more than 195,000 had died, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.
In the United States, the first fatalities were believed to have occurred in late February in Kirkland, Wash., a Seattle suburb that became the nation’s early hot spot. But this week, California health officials said that at least two people who died in early and mid-February were discovered to have contracted the coronavirus — suggesting that it may have spread undetected weeks earlier than once thought.
Many victims of the virus are not known publicly: Health officials in some states release a gender and age range; others release no demographic information, leaving such reporting up to counties.
But some names and faces have emerged.
One was 73-year-old Grammy Award winner John Prine, who sang, as one of his lyrics put it, of “broken hearts and dirty windows.” Another was Leilani Jordan, a 27-year-old Giant grocery store employee in Maryland nicknamed “Butterfly.” And a third was 67-year-old Broadway costume dresser Jennifer Arnold, whose friends described her as leading a life that was “New York through and through.”
The dead include doctors, educators, Holocaust survivors and siblings. Black Americans appear to be getting infected and dying at higher rates, according to an analysis of early data. Most deaths have occurred among people over age 50 and those with underlying conditions, although the virus has killed some who were relatively young and healthy.