The claim: COVID-19 hasn't increased annual U.S. death rates
The first known case of the coronavirus was documented in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Over the past year, the virus has infected more than 88 million people while killing almost 2 million globally, with more than 360,000 of those deaths in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University data as of Jan. 8.
Despite its severity, the virus is politically polarizing, with some prominent elected officials defying health guidelines and railing against mask mandates and other precautions.
Skepticism from some public officials and the lack of a unified response to the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged an onslaught of misinformation and conspiracy theories, which flourish on social media.
One Facebook user shared a post with a screenshot that reads, "The one statistic nobody in the Media Political world, or Health/Medical fields can fudge or lie about, is the number of deaths in the United States.
"In 2019, there was NO Covid-19: The number of USA deaths: 2,854,838. With 2 weeks left in 2020, and a supposedly catastrophic virus pandemic raging the past 10 months, the number of USA deaths stands at: 2,835,533."
The screenshot has two separate listings of "www.cdc.gov..." as supposed citations for the numbers in the claim. However, neither link is fully visible.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user for comment but has not heard back.
COVID-19's influence on annual U.S. death rates
Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases a mortality report, which tracks the number of registered deaths for that year, as well as causes of death and other relevant factors like age, race and gender.
The Facebook post says there were 2,854,838 deaths in 2019, which is accurate according to the CDC's final 2019 mortality report.
However, the post's claim about the number of deaths in 2020 is not accurate.
The post was shared on Dec. 26, claiming that with two weeks left in 2020, there were only 2,835,533 deaths recorded in the U.S., despite "a supposedly catastrophic virus pandemic raging the past 10 months."
The Facebook post cited an incomplete link to the CDC's website as its source for the number of deaths in 2020. However, the CDC has yet to release its final mortality report for 2020.
According to the latest update from the CDC's provisional death counts, there were at least 3.2 million U.S. deaths in 2020. These numbers will continue to change before they become final, as new or updated death certificate data is added when it is available.
Additionally, in October the CDC released a report saying there had been an estimated 299,028 excess deaths in 2020 from late January through Oct. 3 — with 66% of those attributed to the coronavirus.
Excess deaths are defined as "the difference between the observed numbers of deaths in specific time periods and expected numbers of deaths in the same time periods."
In a fact check of a similar claim, the CDC told Politifact that the 2020 death numbers are "without a question NOT on par with previous years," and claims that state otherwise are misrepresenting the data.
'A story of darkness and light': As US nears 300,000 COVID-19 deaths, vaccines bring hope for better days
While the final mortality reports for 2020 are not yet available, preliminary numbers show that 2020 is on track to become the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths exceeding 3 million, undoubtedly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Deaths caused by the virus itself are not the sole cause of the year's increase, as the country has also seen more suicides and drug overdoses, in part because of the pandemic.
According to the CDC, there were more than 81,000 overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May of 2020, marking the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a yearlong period. Overdose data for 2020's full calendar year is not yet available.
Our ruling: False
The claim in the post is rated FALSE, based on our research. Deaths in the United States in 2020 already have surpassed 2019.
While the post has the correct number of deaths for 2019, it incorrectly concludes that only 2,835,533 U.S. deaths occurred in 2020. The total number of deaths in 2020 will not be known for months, but preliminary data shows the year has already surpassed 3.2 million, marking one of the deadliest years in U.S. history, largely influenced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Our fact-check sources:
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, March 5, First cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the WHO European Region, 24 January to 21 February 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 2020, Mortality in the United States, 2019
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19
USA TODAY, Dec. 22, "More than 3 million people died in 2020 – the deadliest year in US history"
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: The US saw more deaths in 2020 than in 2019