PHOENIX — Health officials reported that 21,653 people in Arizona have died from COVID-19 as of Monday morning.
One of the frequent questions that arise from this number is "How does one know that these deaths are not just heart attacks or strokes that also had COVID-19 marked on a death certificate?"
The Centers for Disease Control has a statistic that controls for this. It’s called “excessive deaths,” and Arizona has one of the highest rates in the country.
Expected death rates in each state are relatively predictable. Based on previous years' reporting, demographics, and a state’s rate of growth, health statisticians can estimate a weekly number of deaths that is expected. The dataset also includes the weekly number of observed deaths as it becomes available, a number that is reported to the CDC through the state health department.
Any number of observed deaths over the high-end estimate for weekly deaths is considered an excess death.
From 2017 to 2019, Arizona had only 19 weeks with excess deaths. Since April 2020, about 80 weeks ago, all but six weeks are reported to have had excess deaths.
Since March of last year, Arizona has had about 32,217 excess deaths, a difference of 10,589 from the state’s reported COVID-19 death numbers.
Arizona’s death rate is 26.2% over what is expected, the third highest of any state just behind Mississippi and ahead of Georgia. The United States excess death rate is 19.7%.
The excess death statistics does not give the cause of death.
The consensus among health experts is that the majority of excess deaths are unreported COVID-19 cases.
While we may never know for sure, we may have a better idea sometime next year when state health departments complete more comprehensive annual reports on cause of death data.