Columbia report: US could have avoided 130,000 COVID deaths with better response

A new report from Columbia University researchers finds that at least 130,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States could have been avoided if the U.S. had responded to the virus as well as a group of other high-income countries. 

The report compares the per capita death rate in the U.S. from the virus with six other high-income countries: South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada and France.

It finds that if the U.S. had the same rate of death as France, it would have about 55,000 fewer deaths, while if it had South Korea’s rate it would have about 215,000 fewer. 


“We therefore posit that had the U.S. government implemented an ‘averaged’ approach that mirrored these countries, the U.S. might have limited fatalities to between 38,000 to 85,000 lives  suggesting that a minimum of 130,000 COVID-19 deaths might have been avoidable given alternate policies, implementation, and leadership,” the report states. 

The report was published by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. One of the authors, Irwin Redlener, was named to Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Ex-Trump appointee arrested in Capitol riot complains he won't be able to sleep in jail Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits MORE’s Public Health Advisory Committee in March to advise on the response to the coronavirus. 

The report points to “abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging” in helping to explain why the United States has such a high death rate from the virus. The U.S. has has more than 220,000 deaths from the virus so far, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is about 20 percent of all of the coronavirus deaths in the world, even though the U.S. has only 4 percent of the world’s population. 

It has the ninth highest number of deaths per 100,000 population in the world, behind only Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain and Mexico.

If the U.S. had the same death rate as its neighbor Canada, about 132,000 deaths would have been avoided, the report finds. 


To explain the disproportionately high number of deaths in the U.S., the report points to a number of shortcomings in the Trump administration’s response that have also drawn widespread criticism from other experts. 

The country has “insufficient testing capacity” and a contact tracing system that is “woefully inadequate,” the report states. 

It also points to the lack of a mask mandate or at least “the consistent encouragement of mask use” as harming the response. President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE has mocked masks and rarely worn one himself. 

The report also points to “politicization, leadership vacuum, and the failure of top officials to model best practices.” Trump in recent days has escalated attacks on his own administration’s health experts, calling National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Defense: White House open to reforming war powers | Army base might house migrant children | Fauci scolds military on vaccine Overnight Health Care: CDC study links masks to fewer COVID-19 deaths | Relief debate stalls in Senate | Biden faces criticism over push to vaccinate teachers Watch live: White House coronavirus response team holds briefing MORE a “disaster.” He has also attacked the Food and Drug Administration for harboring a “deep state” and publicly clashed with the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In contrast, the report states: “Many nations facing the pandemic crisis have put politics aside and orchestrated a response led by public health experts and global coordination.”

“Canada, for instance, has witnessed a unique period of political unity surrounding COVID-19 this year,” it adds.