Everyone dies eventually. But exactly when did a person die and from what cause? How many deaths were attributable to that cause? These straightforward questions can be challenging to answer, and their answers reveal only part of the effects of a disease on a family, community, and nation, as is the case with deaths from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Countries began systematically to record deaths and such events as births and marriages at least since the Registration Act of 1854 in Scotland. The US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), operates the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) for the US. The NVSS compiles data supplied by the 50 states, 2 cities (New York City and Washington, DC), and 5 US territories, each of which has legal responsibility for registering births, deaths, and other vital statistics within their jurisdictions. These jurisdictions vary in the timeliness of their submissions to the NVSS, and it takes time to process, code, and tabulate these data. At any moment in time, therefore, the NVSS death counts are incomplete, especially over the most recent couple of weeks, and the lag, depending on jurisdiction and cause of death, can be as long as 8 weeks. For this reason, some universities, media, and other organizations have taken up the task of tabulating current COVID-19 death counts by counties and states and summing those to provide more current, national tallies that are familiar from daily news reports.
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Corresponding Author: Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, 1661 Page Mill Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94304 (email@example.com).
Published Online: October 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.20019
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
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