COVID-19 has been compared and contrasted with the flu throughout the pandemic. These comparisons surged during the spread of the omicron variant, which is more transmissible though, for many, less symptomatically severe than previous variants.
One recent example: A viral tweet from a New York ER doctor, posted on Jan. 30, which claimed, “more Americans died of COVID in the past two weeks than died of influenza in the past three years.”
Did more people in the United States die of COVID-19 in the two weeks before Jan. 30, 2022 than died of the flu in the past three years?
Yes, more people in the United States died of COVID-19 in the two weeks before Jan. 30, 2022 than died of the flu in the past three years.
WHAT WE FOUND
The National Center for Health Statistics compiles death records from around the country. They track everything from strokes to overdoses, to flu and COVID, in weekly reports. This is the most complete and accurate data available about nationwide deaths from flu and COVID-19.
It takes a couple weeks for those records to get processed; that’s why VERIFY is publishing this story now instead of when the tweet first went viral on Jan. 30.
Between Jan. 16, 2022 and Jan. 29, 2022, at least 23,524 people died from COVID-19 in the US, per the NCHS database. That number will likely rise as NCHS processes more COVID-19 deaths. The agency estimates it has processed 100% of death records from the third week of January, but only about 84% from the fourth week.
According to the same database, between the week of Jan. 30, 2019 and the week of Jan. 30, 2022, 16,844 people died from the flu in the United States. That number is unlikely to meaningfully change as records from all but the final week of that span have been fully processed.
The CDC also tracks COVID-19 deaths in a separate data tracker. That method pulls from case surveillance data reported by medical professionals in every state. That data updates more quickly than – and can vary slightly from – the NCHS data, but usually ends up being fairly close. So far, the CDC has recorded 32,894 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. during that two-week span.
The other source of data on flu deaths in the U.S. would normally be the CDC’s estimates for total deaths in a flu season. That practice, however, was interrupted in 2020, so we can’t effectively use these estimates to determine the flu deaths in the time frame we’re looking at. So in this case, the NCHS flu death data is the only complete source for nationwide flu death numbers.
So the doctor’s viral tweet is correct: More people died in two weeks in January of COVID-19 than died of the flu in the past three years.
More from VERIFY: No, the US government is not ending daily COVID death reporting