Even after accounting for confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, New York City still experienced more than 5,000 extra deaths from mid-March to early May that may be directly or indirectly linked to the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
New York City's official death toll from confirmed COVID-19 infections tops 14,000, and "probable" cases account for another 5,000 more, by the city's own accounting. But officials at every level have said they have no doubt the real death toll is actually higher.
The CDC report attempts to quantify that by calculating "excess deaths" -- the number of deaths in a given time and place that are over and above the number of people who would typically die in that time and place in any other year.
And by their math, something like 22 percent of those excess deaths over an eight-week period may not have been officially labeled COVID-19, but may have a direct or indirect link to the virus anyway.
By the CDC's reckoning, from March 11 to May 2, New York City had 24,172 excess deaths over what would be expected. Of those, the CDC found 78 percent of them to be confirmed or probable COVID-19 deaths.
But that leaves 5,293 more deaths over the baseline and not immediately explained by a confirmed or probable COVID diagnosis.
"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 CDC said.
To be sure, the CDC is not saying that all of those 5,000-plus people definitively died of, or even had, COVID-19. Some people may have had underlying health conditions, and their deaths may have appeared to be from those conditions and not the coronavirus. Others, due to social distancing or fears of contagion, may have avoided getting necessary medical care and died that way.
But as they made clear in their report, there is still value in counting all deaths during a crisis like this.
"[M]onitoring of all-cause deaths and estimating excess mortality during the pandemic provides a more sensitive measure of the total number of deaths than would be recorded by counting laboratory-confirmed or probable COVID-19–associated deaths," the CDC added.
As of Monday, including confirmed and probable cases, New York City's death toll was nearly 20,000, accounting for roughly one-quarter of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths.